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Full text of "The touchstone"

THE TOUCHSTONE 



THE TOUCHSTONE 



BY 



EDITH WHARTON 




NEW YORK 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 

MDCCCCIX 



COPYRiGHT, 1900, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER^S SONS 



354 




THE TOUCHSTONE 

I 

PROFESSOR JOSLIN, who, as our readers are doubt- 
less aware, is engaged in writing the life of Mrs. Au- 
byn, asks us to state that he will be greatly indebted 
" to any of the famous novelist's friends who will furnish him 
" with information concerning the period previous to her com- 
" ing to England. Mrs. Aubyn had so few intimate friends, 
" and consequently so few regular correspondents, that letters 
" will be of special value. Professor Joslin's address is 10 Au- 
" gusta Gardens, Kensington, and he begs us to say that he 
" will promptly return any documents entrusted to him." 

GLENNARD dropped the Spectator and sat look- 
ing into the fire. The club was filling up, but he 
still had to himself the small inner room with its 
darkening outlook down the rain-streaked pros- 
pect of Fifth Avenue. It was all dull and dismal 
enough, yet a moment earlier his boredom had been 
perversely tinged by a sense of resentment at the 
thought that, as things were going, he might in 
time have to surrender even the despised privilege 
of boring himself within those particular four walls. 

[i ] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

It was not that he cared much for the club, but 
that the remote contingency of having to give it 
up stood to him, just then, perhaps by very reason 
of its insignificance and remoteness, for the symbol 
of his increasing abnegations; of that perpetual 
paring-off that was gradually reducing existence to 
the naked business of keeping himself alive. It was the 
futility of his multiplied shifts and privations that 
made them seem unworthy of a high attitude the 
sense that, however rapidly he eliminated the super- 
fluous, his cleared horizon was likely to offer no nearer 
view of the one prospect toward which he strained. 
To give up things in order to marry the woman one 
loves is easier than to give them up without being 
brought appreciably nearer to such a conclusion. 

Through the open door he saw young Hollings- 
worth rise with a yawn from the ineffectual solace of 
a brandy-and-soda and transport his purposeless per- 
son to the window. Glennard measured his course 
with a contemptuous eye. It was so like Hollings- 
worth to get up and look out of the window just as 
it was growing too dark to see anything ! There was 
[2] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

a man rich enough to do what he pleased had he 
been capable of being pleased yet barred from all 
conceivable achievement by his own impervious dul- 
ness; while, a few feet off, Glennard, who wanted 
only enough to keep a decent coat on his back and a 
roof over the head of the woman he loved Glennard, 
who had sweated, toiled, denied himself for the scant 
measure of opportunity that his zeal would have con- 
verted into a kingdom sat wretchedly calculating 
that, even when he had resigned from the club, and 
knocked off his cigars, and given up his Sundays out 
of town, he would still be no nearer to attainment. 

The Spectator had slipped to his feet, and as he 
picked it up his eye fell again on the paragraph ad- 
dressed to the friends of Mrs. Aubyn. He had read 
it for the first time with a scarcely perceptible quick- 
ening of attention : her name had so long been pub- 
lic property that his eye passed it unseeingly, as the 
crowd in the street hurries without a glance by some 
familiar monument. 

"Information concerning the period previous to 
her coming to England. . . ." The words were an 
[3] 




THE TOUCHSTONE 

evocation. He saw her again as she had looked at 
their first meeting, the poor woman of genius with 
her long pale face and short-sighted eyes, softened a 
little by the grace of youth and inexperience, but so 
incapable even then of any hold upon the pulses. 
When she spoke, indeed, she was wonderful, more 
wonderful, perhaps, than when later, to Glennard's 
fancy at least, the consciousness of memorable things 
uttered seemed to take from even her most intimate 
speech the perfect bloom of privacy. It was in those 
earliest days, if ever, that he had come near loving 
her ; though even then his sentiment had lived only 
in the intervals of its expression. Later, when to be 
loved by her had been a state to touch any man's 
imagination, the physical reluctance had, inexplica- 
bly, so overborne the intellectual attraction, that the 
last years had been, to both of them, an agony of 
conflicting impulses. Even now, if, in turning over 
old papers his hand lit on her letters, the touch filled 
him with inarticulate misery. . . . 

" She had so few intimate friends . . . that letters 
will be of special value." So few intimate friends ! 
[4] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

For years she had had but one ; one who in the last 
years had requited her wonderful pages, her tragic 
outpourings of love, humility and pardon, with the 
scant phrases by which a man evades the vulgarest 
of sentimental importunities. He had been a brute 
in spite of himself, and sometimes, now that the re- 
membrance of her face had faded, and only her voice 
and words remained with him, he chafed at his own 
inadequacy, his stupid inability to rise to the height 
of her passion. His egoism was not of a kind to 
mirror its complacency in the adventure. To have 
been loved by the most brilliant woman of her day, 
and to have been incapable of loving her, seemed to 
him, in looking back, derisive evidence of his limita- 
tions ; and his remorseful tenderness for her memory 
was complicated with a sense of irritation against 
her for having given him once for all the measure 
of his emotional capacity. It was not often, however, 
that he thus probed the past. The public, in taking 
possession of Mrs. Aubyn, had eased his shoulders 
of their burden. There was something fatuous in an 
attitude of sentimental apology toward a memory 

[5] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

already classic : to reproach one's self for not having 
loved Margaret Aubyn was a good deal like being 
disturbed by an inability to admire the Venus of 
Milo. From her cold niche of fame she looked down 
ironically enough on his self-flagellations. ... It 
was only when he came on something- that belonged 
to her that he felt a sudden renewal of the old feel- 
ing, the strange dual impulse that drew him to her 
voice but drove him from her hand, so that even 
now, at sight of anything she had touched, his heart 
contracted painfully. It happened seldom nowadays. 
Her little presents, one by one, had disappeared from 
his rooms, and her letters, kept from some unac- 
knowledged puerile vanity in the possession of such 
treasures, seldom came beneath his hand. . . . 

" Her letters will be of special value " Her let- 
ters ! Why, he must have hundreds of them enough 
to fill a volume. Sometimes it used to seem to him 
that they came with every post he used to avoid 
looking in his letter-box when he came home to his 
rooms but her writing seemed to spring out at him 
as he put his key in the door. 
[6] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

He stood up and strolled into the other room. 
Hollingsworth, lounging away from the window, had 
joined himself to a languidly convivial group of men, 
to whom, in phrases as halting as though they strug- 
gled to define an ultimate idea, he was expounding 
the cursed nuisance of living in a hole with such a 
damned climate that one had to get out of it by 
February, with the contingent difficulty of there be- 
ing no place to take one's yacht to in winter but 
that other played-out hole, the Riviera. From the 
outskirts of this group Glennard wandered to an- 
other, where a voice as different as possible from 
Hollingsworth's colorless organ dominated another 
circle of languid listeners. 

"Come and hear Dinslow talk about his patent: 
admission free, 1 ' one of the men sang out in a tone 
of mock resignation. 

Dinslow turned to Glennard the confident pug- 
nacity of his smile. "Give it another six months and 
it '11 be talking about itself," he declared. "It 's pretty 
nearly articulate now." 

"Can it say papa ? " someone else inquired. 
[7] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Dinslow's smile broadened. "You'll be deuced 
glad to say papa to it a year from now," he retorted. 
" It '11 be able to support even you in affluence. Look 
here, now, just let me explain to you " 

Glennard moved away impatiently. The men at 
the club all but those who were "in it" were 
proverbially "tired" of Dinslow's patent, and none 
more so than Glennard, whose knowledge of its 
merits made it loom large in the depressing cata- 
logue of lost opportunities. The relations between 
the two men had always been friendly, and Dinslow's 
urgent offers to "take him in on the ground floor" 
had of late intensified Glennard's sense of his own 
inability to meet good luck half-way. Some of the 
men who had paused to listen were already in even- 
ing clothes, others on their way home to dress ; and 
Glennard, with an accustomed twinge of humiliation, 
said to himself that if he lingered among them it 
was in the miserable hope that one of the number 
might ask him to dine. Miss Trent had told him 
that she was to go to the opera that evening with 
her rich aunt; and if he should have the luck to pick 
[8] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

up a dinner invitation he might join her there with- 
out extra outlay. 

He moved about the room, lingering here and 
there in a tentative affectation of interest; but 
though the men greeted him pleasantly, no one 
asked him to dine. Doubtless they were all engaged, 
these men who could afford to pay for their dinners, 
who did not have to hunt for invitations as a beggar 
rummages for a crust in an ash-barrel ! But no 
as Hollingsworth left the lessening circle about the 
table, an admiring youth called out, "Holly, stop 
and dine ! " 

Hollingsworth turned on him the crude counte- 
nance that looked like the wrong side of a more 
finished face. "Sony I can't. I'm in for a beastly 
banquet." 

Glennard threw himself into an arm-chair. Why 
go home in the rain to dress ? It was folly to take 
a cab to the opera, it was worse folly to go there 
at all. His perpetual meetings with Alexa Trent 
were as unfair to the girl as they were unnerving 
to himself. Since he could n't marry her, it was time 
[9] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to stand aside and give a better man the chance 
and his thought admitted the ironical implication 
that in the terms of expediency the phrase might 
stand for Hollingsworth. 



[10] 



II 

HE dined alone and walked home to his rooms 
in the rain. As he turned into Fifth Avenue 
he caught the wet gleam of carriages on their way 
to the opera, and he took the first side street, in a 
moment of irritation against the petty restrictions 
that thwarted every impulse. It was ridiculous to 
give up the opera, not because one might possibly 
be bored there, but because one must pay for the 
experiment. 

In his sitting-room, the tacit connivance of the 
inanimate had centred the lamplight on a photo- 
graph of Alexa Trent, placed, in the obligatory 
silver frame, just where, as memory officiously re- 
minded him, Margaret Aubyn's picture had long 
throned in its stead. Miss Trent's features cruelly 
justified the usurpation. She had the kind of beauty 
that comes of a happy accord of face and spirit. It is 
not given to many to have the lips and eyes of their 
rarest mood, and some women go through life be- 
hind a mask expressing only their anxiety about the 
butcher's bill or their inability to see a joke. With 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Miss Trent, face and mind had the same high serious 
contour. She looked like a throned Justice by some 
grave Florentine painter ; and it seemed to Glennard 
that her most salient attribute, or that at least to 
which her conduct gave most consistent expression, 
was a kind of passionate justness the intuitive femi- 
nine justness that is so much rarer than a reasoned 
impartiality. Circumstances had tragically combined 
to develop this instinct into a conscious habit. She 
had seen more than most girls of the shabby side of 
life, of the perpetual tendency of want to cramp the 
noblest attitude. Poverty and misfortune had over- 
hung her childhood, and she had none of the pretty 
delusions about life that are supposed to be the 
crowning grace of girlhood. This very competence, 
which gave her a touching reasonableness, made Glen- 
nard's situation more difficult than if he had aspired 
to a princess. Between them they asked so little 
they knew so well how to make that little do; but 
they understood also, and she especially did not for 
a moment let him forget, that without that little the 
future they dreamed of was impossible. 
[12] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

The sight of her photograph quickened Glen- 
narcTs exasperation. He was sick and ashamed of the 
part he was playing. He had loved her now for two 
years, with the tranquil tenderness that gathers 
depth and volume as it nears fulfilment; he knew 
that she would wait for him but the certitude was 
an added pang. There are times when the constancy 
of the woman one cannot marry is almost as trying 
as that of the woman one does not want to. 

Glennard turned up his reading-lamp and stirred 
the fire. He had a long evening before him, and he 
wanted to crowd out thought with action. He had 
brought some papers from his office and he spread 
them out on his table and squared himself to the 
task. . . . 

It must have been an hour later that he found 
himself automatically fitting a key into a locked 
drawer. He had no more notion than a somnambu- 
list of the mental process that had led up to this 
action. He was just dimly aware of having pushed 
aside the papers and the heavy calf volumes that 
a moment before had bounded his horizon, and of 
[13] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

laying in their place, without a trace of conscious 
volition, the parcel he had taken from the drawer. 

The letters were tied in packets of thirty or forty. 
There were a great many packets. On some of the 
envelopes the ink was fading; on others, which 
bore the English postmark, it was still fresh. She 
had been dead hardly three years, and she had 
written, at lengthening intervals, to the last. . . . 

He undid one of the early packets little notes 
written during their first acquaintance at Hill- 
bridge. Glennard, on leaving college, had begun 
life in his uncle's law office in the old university 
town. It was there that, at the house of her father, 
Professor Forth, he had first met the young lady 
then chiefly distinguished for having, after two 
years of a conspicuously unhappy marriage, re- 
turned to the protection of the paternal roof. 

Mrs. Aubyn was at that time an eager and 
somewhat tragic young woman, of complex mind 
and undeveloped manners, whom her crude experi- 
ence of matrimony had fitted out with a stock of 
generalizations that exploded like bombs in the 
[14] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

academic air of Hillbridge. In her choice of a hus- 
band she had been fortunate enough, if the paradox 
be permitted, to light on one so signally gifted with 
the faculty of putting himself in the wrong that 
her leaving him had the dignity of a manifesto 
made her, as it were, the spokeswoman of outraged 
wifehood. In this light she was cherished by that 
dominant portion of Hillbridge society which was 
least indulgent to conjugal differences, and which 
found a proportionate pleasure in being for once 
able to feast openly on a dish liberally seasoned 
with the outrageous. So much did this endear Mrs. 
Aubyn to the university ladies, that they were dis- 
posed from the first to allow her more latitude of 
speech and action than the ill-used wife was gener- 
ally accorded in Hillbridge, where misfortune was 
still regarded as a visitation designed to put people 
in their proper place and make them feel the superi- 
ority of their neighbors. The young woman so privi- 
leged combined with a kind of personal shyness an 
intellectual audacity that was like a deflected im- 
pulse of coquetry : one felt that if she had been 
[15] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

prettier she would have had emotions instead of 
ideas. She was in fact even then what she had 
always remained : a genius capable of the acutest 
generalizations, but curiously undiscerning where 
her personal susceptibilities were concerned. Her 
psychology failed her just where it serves most 
women, and one felt that her brains would never 
be a guide to her heart. Of all this, however, Glen- 
nard thought little in the first year of their ac- 
quaintance. He was at an age when all the gifts 
and graces are but so much undiscriminated food 
to the ravening egoism of youth. In seeking Mrs. 
Aubyn's company he was prompted by an intuitive 
taste for the best as a pledge of his own superiority. 
The sympathy of the cleverest woman in Hillbridge 
was balm to his craving for distinction ; it was pub- 
lic confirmation of his secret sense that he was cut 
out for a bigger place. It must not be understood 
that Glennard was vain. Vanity contents itself with 
the coarsest diet ; there is no palate so fastidious as 
that of self-distrust. To a youth of Glennard's as- 
pirations the encouragement of a clever woman stood 
[16] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

for the symbol of all success. Later, when he had 
begun to feel his way, to gain a foothold, he would 
not need such support; but it served to carry him 
lightly and easily over what is often a period of 
insecurity and discouragement. 

It would be unjust, however, to represent his in- 
terest in Mrs. Aubyn as a matter of calculation. It 
was as instinctive as love, and it missed being love 
by just such a hair-breadth deflection from the line 
of beauty as had determined the curve of Mrs. Au- 
byrTs lips. When they met she had just published 
her first novel, and Glennard, who afterward had an 
ambitious man's impatience of distinguished women, 
was young enough to be dazzled by the semi-pub- 
licity it gave her. It was the kind of book that makes 
elderly ladies lower their voices and call each other 
"my dear" when they furtively discuss it ; and Glen- 
nard exulted in the superior knowledge of the world 
that enabled him to take as a matter of course sen- 
timents over which the university shook its head. 
Still more delightful was it to hear Mrs. Aubyn 
waken the echoes of academic drawing-rooms with 
[17] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

audacities surpassing those of her printed page. Her 
intellectual independence gave a touch of comrade- 
ship to their intimacy, prolonging the illusion of 
college friendships based on a joyous interchange of 
heresies. Mrs. Aubyn and Glennard represented to 
each other the augur's wink behind the Hillbridge 
idol : they walked together in that light of young 
omniscience from which fate so curiously excludes 
one's elders. 

Husbands, who are notoriously inopportune, may 
even die inopportunely, and this was the revenge 
that Mr. Aubyn, some two years after her return to 
Hillbridge, took upon his injured wife. He died pre- 
cisely at the moment when Glennard was beginning 
to criticise her. It was not that she bored him ; she 
did what was infinitely worse she made him feel 
his inferiority. The sense of mental equality had 
been gratifying to his raw ambition ; but as his self- 
knowledge defined itself, his understanding of her 
also increased ; and if man is at times indirectly flat- 
tered by the moral superiority of woman, her mental 
ascendency is extenuated by no such oblique tribute 
[18] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to his powers. The attitude of looking up is a strain 
on the muscles ; and it was becoming more and more 
Glennard's opinion that brains, in a woman, should 
be merely the obverse of beauty. To beauty Mrs. 
Aubyn could lay no claim ; and while she had 
enough prettiness to exasperate him by her inca- 
pacity to make use of it, she seemed invincibly igno- 
rant of any of the little artifices whereby women con- 
trive to hide their defects and even to turn them 
into graces. Her dress never seemed a part of her ; 
all her clothes had an impersonal air, as though they 
had belonged to someone else and been borrowed in 
an emergency that had somehow become chronic. 
She was conscious enough of her deficiencies to try to 
amend them by rash imitations of the most approved 
models ; but no woman who does not dress well in- 
tuitively will ever do so by the light of reason, and 
Mrs. Aubyn's plagiarisms, to borrow a metaphor of 
her trade, somehow never seemed to be incorporated 
with the text. 

Genius is of small use to a woman who does not 
know how to do her hair. The fame that came to 
[19] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Mrs. Aubyn with her second book left GlennarcTs 
imagination untouched, or had at most the negative 
effect of removing her still farther from the circle of 
his contracting sympathies. We are all the sport of 
time ; and fate had so perversely ordered the chro- 
nology of Margaret Aubyn's romance that when her 
husband died Glennard felt as though he had lost a 
friend. 

It was not in his nature to be needlessly unkind ; 
and though he was in the impregnable position of 
the man who has given a woman no more definable 
claim on him than that of letting her fancy that he 
loves her, he would not for the world have accentu- 
ated his advantage by any betrayal of indifference. 
During the first year of her widowhood their friend- 
ship dragged on with halting renewals of sentiment, 
becoming more and more a banquet of empty dishes 
from which the covers were never removed; then 
Glennard went to New York to live and exchanged 
the faded pleasures of intercourse for the compara- 
tive novelty of correspondence. Her letters, oddly 
enough, seemed at first to bring her nearer than her 
[20] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

presence. She had adopted, and she successfully main- 
tained, a note as affectionately impersonal as his own; 
she wrote ardently of her work, she questioned him 
about his, she even bantered him on the inevitable 
pretty girl who was certain before long to divert the 
current of his confidences. To Glennard, who was 
almost a stranger in New York, the sight of Mrs. 
Aubyn's writing was like a voice of reassurance in 
surroundings as yet insufficiently aware of him. His 
vanity found a retrospective enjoyment in the senti- 
ment his heart had rejected, and this factitious emo- 
tion drove him once or twice to Hillbridge, whence, 
after scenes of evasive tenderness, he returned dissat- 
isfied with himself and her. As he made room for 
himself in New York and peopled the space he had 
cleared with the sympathies at the disposal of agree- 
able and self-confident young men, it seemed to him 
natural to infer that Mrs. Aubyn had refurnished in 
the same manner the void he was not unwilling his 
departure should have left. But in the dissolution of 
sentimental partnerships it is seldom that both asso- 
ciates are able to withdraw their funds at the same 
[21] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

time ; and Glennard gradually learned that he stood 
for the venture on which Mrs, Aubyn had irretriev- 
ably staked her all. It was not the kind of figure he 
cared to cut. He had no fancy for leaving havoc in 
his wake and would have preferred to sow a quick 
growth of oblivion in the spaces wasted by his un- 
considered inroads ; but if he supplied the seed, it 
was clearly Mrs. Aubyn's business to see to the rais- 
ing of the crop. Her attitude seemed indeed to throw 
his own reasonableness into distincter relief; so that 
they might have stood for thrift and improvidence 
in an allegory of the affections. 

It was not that Mrs. Aubyn permitted herself to 
be a pensioner on his bounty. He knew she had no 
wish to keep herself alive on the small change of sen- 
timent; she simply fed on her own funded passion, 
and the luxuries it allowed her made him, even then, 
dimly aware that she had the secret of an inexhausti- 
ble alchemy. 

Their relations remained thus negatively tender 
till she suddenly wrote him of her decision to go 
abroad to live. Her father had died, she had no 
[22] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

near ties in Hillbridge, and London offered more 
scope than New York to her expanding personality. 
She was already famous, and her laurels were yet un- 
harvested. 

For a moment the news roused Glennard to a 
jealous sense of lost opportunities. He wanted, at 
any rate, to reassert his power before she made the 
final effort of escape. They had not met for over a 
year, but of course he could not let her sail without 
seeing her. She came to New York the day before 
her departure, and they spent its last hours together. 
Glennard had planned no course of action he sim- 
ply meant to let himself drift. They both drifted, for 
a long time, down the languid current of reminis- 
cence; she seemed to sit passive, letting him push 
his way back through the overgrown channels of the 
past. At length she reminded him that they must 
bring their explorations to an end. He rose to leave, 
and stood looking at her with the same uncertainty 
in his heart. He was tired of her already he was 
always tired of her yet he was not sure that he 
wanted her to go. 

[23] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"I may never see you again, 11 he said, as though 
confidently appealing to her compassion. 

Her look enveloped him. "And I shall see you 
always always I 11 

"Why go then P 11 escaped him. 

"To be nearer you, 11 she answered ; and the words 
dismissed him like a closing door. 

The door was never to reopen ; but through its 
narrow crack Glennard, as the years went on, became 
more and more conscious of an inextinguishable light 
directing its small ray toward the past which con- 
sumed so little of his own commemorative oil. The 
reproach was taken from this thought by Mrs. 
Aubyn^ gradual translation into terms of univer- 
sality. In becoming a personage she so naturally 
ceased to be a person that Glennard could almost 
look back to his explorations of her spirit as on a 
visit to some famous shrine, immortalized, but in 
a sense desecrated, by popular veneration. 

Her letters from London continued to come with 
the same tender punctuality ; but the altered condi- 
tions of her life, the vistas of new relationships dis- 
[24] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

closed by every phrase, made her communications as 
impersonal as a piece of journalism. It was as though 
the state, the world, indeed, had taken her off his 
hands, assuming the maintenance of a temperament 
that had long exhausted his slender store of reci- 
procity. 

In the retrospective light shed by the letters he 
was blinded to their specific meaning. He was not 
a man who concerned himself with literature, and 
they had been to him, at first, simply the extension 
of her brilliant talk, later the dreaded vehicle of a 
tragic importunity. He knew, of course, that they 
were wonderful ; that, unlike the authors who give 
their essence to the public and keep only a dry rind 
for their friends, Mrs. Aubyn had stored of her 
rarest vintage for this hidden sacrament of tender- 
ness. Sometimes, indeed, he had been oppressed, hu- 
miliated almost, by the multiplicity of her allusions, 
the wide scope of her interests, her persistence in 
forcing her superabundance of thought and emotion 
into the shallow receptacle of his sympathy ; but he 
had never thought of the letters objectively, as the 
[25] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

production of a distinguished woman ; had never 
measured the literary significance of her oppressive 
prodigality. He was almost frightened now at the 
wealth in his hands ; the obligation of her love had 
never weighed on him like this gift of her imagina- 
tion : it was as though he had accepted from her 
something to which even a reciprocal tenderness 
could not have justified his claim. 

He sat a long time staring at the scattered pages 
on his desk; and in the sudden realization of what 
they meant he could almost fancy some alchemistic 
process changing them to gold as he stared. 

He had the sense of not being alone in the room, 
of the presence of another self observing from with- 
out the stirring of sub-conscious impulses that sent 
flushes of humiliation to his forehead. At length he 
stood up, and with the gesture of a man who wishes 
to give outward expression to his purpose to es- 
tablish, as it were, a moral alibi swept the letters 
into a heap and carried them toward the grate. But 
it would have taken too long to burn all the pack- 
ets. He turned back to the table and one by one 
[26] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

fitted the pages into their envelopes; then he tied 
up the letters and put them back into the locked 
drawer. 



[27] 



Ill 

IT was one of the laws of Glennard's intercourse 
with Miss Trent that he always went to see her 
the day after he had resolved to give her up. There 
was a special charm about the moments thus snatched 
from the jaws of renunciation; and his sense of their 
significance was on this occasion so keen that he 
hardly noticed the added gravity of her welcome. 

His feeling for her had become so vital a part of 
him that her nearness had the quality of impercep- 
tibly readjusting his point of view, of making the 
jumbled phenomena of experience fall at once into a 
rational perspective. In this redistribution of values 
the sombre retrospect of the previous evening shrank 
to a mere cloud on the edge of consciousness. Per- 
haps the only service an unloved woman can render 
the man she loves is to enhance and prolong his il- 
lusions about her rival. It was the fate of Margaret 
Aubyn's memory to serve as a foil to Miss Trent's 
presence, and never had the poor lady thrown her 
successor into more vivid relief. 

Miss Trent had the charm of still waters that are 
[28] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

felt to be renewed by rapid currents. Her attention 
spread a tranquil surface to the demonstrations of 
others, and it was only in days of storm that one 
felt the pressure of the tides. This inscrutable com- 
posure was perhaps her chief grace in Glennard's 
eyes. Reserve, in some natures, implies merely the 
locking of empty rooms or the dissimulation of awk- 
ward encumbrances; but Miss Trent's reticence was 
to Glennard like the closed door to the sanctuary, 
and his certainty of divining the hidden treasure 
made him content to remain outside in the happy 
expectancy of the neophyte. 

"You did n't come to the opera last night,*" she 
began, in the tone that seemed always rather to re- 
cord a fact than to offer a reflection on it. 

He answered with a discouraged gesture. "What 
was the use? We couldn't have talked." 

"Not as well as here," she assented ; adding, after 
a meditative pause, "As you did n't come I talked to 
Aunt Virginia instead." 

"Ah !" he returned, the fact being hardly striking 
enough to detach him from the contemplation of her 
[29] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

hands, which had fallen, as was their wont, into an 
attitude full of plastic possibilities. One felt them to 
be hands that, moving only to some purpose, were 
capable of intervals of serene inaction. 

"We had a long talk, 1 ' Miss Trent went on ; and she 
waited again before adding, with the increased absence 
of stress that marked her graver communications, 
"Aunt Virginia wants me to go abroad with her." 

Glennard looked up with a start. "Abroad? 
When?" 

"Now-^-next month. To be gone two years." 

He permitted himself a movement of tender deri- 
sion. "Does she really ? Well, I want you to go 
abroad with me for any number of years. Which 
offer do you accept ? " 

"Only one of them seems to require immediate 
consideration," she returned with a smile. 

Glennard looked at her again. "You Ye not think- 
ing of it ?" 

Her gaze dropped and she unclasped her hands. 
Her movements were so rare that they might have 
been said to italicize her words. "Aunt Virginia 
[30] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

talked to me very seriously. It will be a great relief 
to mother and the others to have me provided for 
in that way for two years. I must think of that, you 
know." She glanced down at her gown, which, under 
a renovated surface, dated back to the first days of 
Glennard's wooing. "I try not to cost much but I 
do." 

"Good Lord !" Glennard groaned. 

They sat silent till at length she gently took up 
the argument. "As the eldest, you know, I 'm bound 
to consider these things. Women are such a burden. 
Jim does what he can for mother, but with his own 
children to provide for it is n't very much. You see 
we Ye all poor together." 

"Your aunt isn't. She might help your mother." 

"She does in her own way." 

"Exactly that's the rich relation all over ! You 
may be miserable in any way you like, but if you 're 
to be happy you must be so in her way and in her 
old gowns." 

"I could be very happy in Aunt Virginia's old 
gowns," Miss Trent interposed. 
[31] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Abroad, you mean ? " 

"I mean wherever I felt that I was helping. And 
my going abroad will help."" 

"Of course I see that. And I see your consider- 
ateness in putting its advantages negatively." 

" Negatively ?" 

"In dwelling simply on what the going will take 
you from, not on what it will bring you to. It means 
a lot to a woman, of course, to get away from a life 
like this. 1 ' He summed up in a disparaging glance 
the background of indigent furniture. "The question 
is how you 11 like coming back to it.*" 

She seemed to accept the full consequences of his 
thought. "I only know I don't like leaving it." 

He flung back sombrely, "You don't even put it 
conditionally then ? " 

Her gaze deepened. "On what?"" 

He stood up and walked across the room. Then he 
came back and paused before her. "On the alterna- 
tive of marrying me." 

The slow color even her blushes seemed deliber- 
ate rose to her lower lids ; her lips stirred, but the 
[32] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

words resolved themselves into a smile and she waited. 

He took another turn, with the thwarted step of 
the man whose nervous exasperation escapes through 
his muscles. 

"And to think that in fifteen years I shall have a 
big practice ! " 

Her eyes triumphed for him. "In less !" 

"The cursed irony of it ! What do I care for the 
man I shall be then ? It 's slaving one's life away for 
a stranger!" He took her hands abruptly. "You'll 
go to Cannes, I suppose, or Monte Carlo ? I heard 
Hollingsworth say to-day that he meant to take his 
yacht over to the Mediterranean " 

She released herself. "If you think that " 

"I don't. I almost wish I did. It would be easier, 
I mean." He broke off incoherently. "I believe your 
Aunt Virginia does, though. She somehow connotes 
Hollingsworth and the Mediterranean." He caught 
her hands again. " Alexa if we could manage a lit- 
tle hole somewhere out of town ? " 

"Could we?" she sighed, half yielding. 

"In one of those places where they make jokes 
[33] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

about the mosquitoes," he pressed her. "Could you 
get on with one servant ? " 

"Could you get on without varnished boots?" 

"Promise me you won't go, then ! " 

"What are you thinking of, Stephen ? " 

"I don't know," he stammered, the question giving 
unexpected form to his intention. "It's all in the air 
yet, of course ; but I picked up a tip the other day " 

" You Ye not speculating ?" she cried, with a kind 
of superstitious terror. 

"Lord, no. This is a sure thing I almost wish it 
was n't ; I mean if I can work it " He had a sudden 
vision of the comprehensiveness of the temptation. 
If only he had been less sure of Dinslow ! His assur- 
ance gave the situation the base element of safety. 

"I don't understand you," she faltered. 

"Trust me, instead !" he adjured her with sudden 
energy ; and turning on her abruptly, "If you go, 
you know, you go free," he concluded. 

She drew back, paling a little. "Why do you 
make it harder for me ?" 

"To make it easier for myself," he retorted. 
[34] 



IV 

THE next afternoon Glennard, leaving his office 
earlier than usual, turned, on his way home, 
into one of the public libraries. 

He had the place to himself at that closing hour, 
and the librarian was able to give an undivided at- 
tention to his tentative request for letters collec- 
tions of letters. The librarian suggested Walpole. 

" I meant women women's letters." 

The librarian proffered Hannah More and Miss 
Martineau. 

Glennard cursed his own inarticulateness. " I mean 
letters to to some one person a man ; their hus- 
bandor" 

"Ah," said the inspired librarian, "Eloise and 
Abailard." 

"Well something a little nearer, perhaps," said 
Glennard, with lightness. " Did n't Merimee " 

"The lady's letters, in that case, were not pub- 
lished." 

"Of course not," said Glennard, vexed at h 
blunder. 

[35] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" There are George Sand's letters to Flaubert." 

"Ah!" Glennard hesitated. "Was she were 
they ?" He chafed at his own ignorance of the 
sentimental by-paths of literature. 

"If you want love-letters, perhaps some of the 
French eighteenth-century correspondences might suit 
you better Mile. Aisse or Madame de Sabran " 

But Glennard insisted. "I want something mod- 
ern English or American. I want to look some- 
thing up," he lamely concluded. 

The librarian could only suggest George Eliot. 

" Well, give me some of the French things, then 
and 1 11 have MerimeVs letters. It was the woman 
who published them, was n't it ? " 

He caught up his armful, transferring it, on the 
doorstep, to a cab which carried him to his rooms. 
He dined alone, hurriedly, at a small restaurant near 
by, and returned at once to his books. 

Late that night, as he undressed, he wondered 
what contemptible impulse had forced from him his 
last words to Alexa Trent. It was bad enough to in- 
terfere with the girl's chances by hanging about her 
[36] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to the obvious exclusion of other men, but it was 
worse to seem to justify his weakness by dressing up 
the future in delusive ambiguities. He saw himself 
sinking from depth to depth of sentimental coward- 
ice in his reluctance to renounce his hold on her; 
and it filled him with self-disgust to think that the 
highest feeling of which he supposed himself capable 
was blent with such base elements. 

His awakening was hardly cheered by the sight of 
her writing. He tore her note open and took in the few 
lines she seldom exceeded the first page with the 
lucidity of apprehension that is the forerunner of evil. 

" My aunt sails on Saturday and I must give her 
my answer the day after to-morrow. Please don't 
come till then I want to think the question over 
by myself. I know I ought to go. Won't you help 
me to be reasonable ? " 

It was settled, then. Well, he would help her to be 
reasonable; he would n't stand in her way ; he would 
let her go. For two years he had been living some 
other, luckier man's life ; the time had come when he 
must drop back into his own. He no longer tried to 
[37] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

look ahead, to grope his way through the endless 
labyrinth of his material difficulties ; a sense of dull 
resignation closed in on him like a fog. 

"Hullo, Glennard ! " a voice said, as an electric car, 
late that afternoon, dropped him at an uptown corner. 

He looked up and met the interrogative smile of 
Barton Flamel, who stood on the curbstone watch- 
ing the retreating car with the eye of a man philo- 
sophic enough to remember that it will be followed 
by another. 

Glennard felt his usual impulse of pleasure at meet- 
ing Flamel ; but it was not in this case curtailed by 
the reaction of contempt that habitually succeeded 
it. Probably even the few men who had known Flamel 
since his youth could have given no good reason for 
the vague mistrust that he inspired. Some people are 
judged by their actions, others by their ideas ; and 
perhaps the shortest way of defining Flamel is to 
say that his well-known leniency of view was vaguely 
divined to include himself. Simple minds may have 
resented the discovery that his opinions were based 
[38] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

on his perceptions ; but there was certainly no more 
definite charge against him than that implied in the 
doubt as to how he would behave in an emergency, 
and his company was looked upon as one of those 
mildly unwholesome dissipations to which the pru- 
dent may occasionally yield. It now offered itself to 
Glennard as an easy escape from the obsession of 
moral problems, which somehow could no more be 
worn in FlamePs presence than a surplice ia the 
street. 

"Where are you going? To the club?" Flamel 
asked ; adding, as the younger man assented, "Why 
not come to my studio instead ? You 11 see one bore 
instead of twenty." 

The apartment which Flamel described as his stu- 
dio showed, as its one claim to the designation, a 
perennially empty easel, the rest of its space being 
filled with the evidences of a comprehensive dilet- 
tanteism. Against this background, which seemed 
the visible expression of its owner's intellectual toler- 
ance, rows of fine books detached themselves with a 
prominence showing them to be FlamePs chief care. 
[39] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Glennard glanced with the eye of untrained curi- 
osity at the lines of warm-toned morocco, while his 
host busied himself with the uncorking of Apolli- 
naris. 

"You 've got a splendid lot of books," he said. 

"They're fairly decent, 1 ' the other assented, in 
the curt tone of the collector who will not talk of 
his passion for fear of talking of nothing else; then, 
as Glennard, his hands in his pockets, began to stroll 
perfunctorily down the long line of bookcases 
"Some men," Flamel irresistibly added, "think of 
books merely as tools, others as tooling. I 'm between 
the two ; there are days when I use them as scenery, 
other days when I want them as society ; so that, as 
you see, my library represents a makeshift compro- 
mise between looks and brains, and the collectors 
look down on me almost as much as the students." 

Glennard, without answering, was mechanically 
taking one book after another from the shelves. His 
hands slipped curiously over the smooth covers and 
the noiseless subsidence of opening pages. Suddenly 
he came on a thin volume of faded manuscript. 
[40] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" What 's this ? " he asked with a listless sense of 
wonder. 

"Ah, you're at my manuscript shelf. I've been 
going in for that sort of thing lately." Flamel came 
up and looked over his shoulders. "That's a bit of 
Stendhal one of the Italian stories and here are 
some letters of Balzac to Madame Surville." 

Glennard took the book with sudden eagerness. 
" Who was Madame Surville ? " 

"His sister." He was conscious that Flamel was 
looking at him with the smile that was like an in- 
terrogation point. " I did n't know you cared for this 
kind of thing." 

" I don't at least I Ve never had the chance. Have 
you many collections of letters ? " 

"Lord, no very few. I'm just beginning, and 
most of the interesting ones are out of my reach. 
Here's a queer little collection, though the rarest 
thing I 've got half a dozen of Shelley's letters to 
Harriet Westbrook. I had a devil of a time getting 
them a lot of collectors were after them." 

Glennard, taking the volume from his hand, 
[41] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

glanced with a kind of repugnance at the interleav- 
ing of yellow crisscrossed sheets. " She was the one 
who drowned herself, was n't she ? " 

Flamel nodded. " I suppose that little episode adds 
about fifty per cent, to their value," he said medi- 
tatively. 

Glennard laid the book down. He wondered why 
he had joined Flamel. He was in no humor to be 
amused by the older man's talk, and a recrudescence 
of personal misery rose about him like an icy tide. 

" I believe I must take myself off," he said. " I M 
forgotten an engagement." 

He turned to go ; but almost at the same moment 
he was conscious of a duality of intention wherein 
his apparent wish to leave revealed itself as a last 
effort of the will against the overmastering desire to 
stay and unbosom himself to Flamel. 

The older man, as though divining the conflict, 
laid a detaining pressure on his arm. 

" Won't the engagement keep ? Sit down and try 
one of these cigars. I don't often have the luck of 
seeing you here." 

[42] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"I'm rather driven just now," said Glennard 
vaguely. He found himself seated again, and Flamel 
had pushed to his side a low stand holding a bottle 
of Apollinaris and a decanter of cognac. 

Flamel, thrown back in his capacious arm-chair, 
surveyed him through a cloud of smoke with the 
comfortable tolerance of the man to whom no incon- 
sistencies need be explained. Connivance was implicit 
in the air. It was the kind of atmosphere in which 
the outrageous loses its edge. Glennard felt a gradual 
relaxing of his nerves. 

"I suppose one has to pay a lot for letters like 
that ? " he heard himself asking, with a glance in the 
direction of the volume he had laid aside. 

"Oh, so-so depends on circumstances. 1 " Flamel 
viewed him thoughtfully. " Are you thinking of col- 
lecting ? " 

Glennard laughed. "Lord, no. The other way 
round."" 

"Selling?" 

"Oh, I hardly know. I was thinking of a poor 
chap " 

[43] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Flamel filled the pause with a nod of interest. 

"A poor chap I used to know who died he 
died last year and who left me a lot of letters, 
letters he thought a great deal of he was fond of 
me and left 'em to me outright, with the idea, I sup- 
pose, that they might benefit me somehow I don't 
know I'm not much up on such things " He 
reached his hand to the tall glass his host had filled. 

"A collection of autograph letters, eh? Any big 
names ? " 

" Oh, only one name. They 're all letters written 
to him by one person, you understand ; a woman, 
in fact " 

" Oh, a woman," said Flamel negligently. 

Glennard was nettled by his obvious loss of inter- 
est. "I rather think they'd attract a good deal of 
notice if they were published." 

Flamel still looked uninterested. "Love-letters, I 
suppose ? " 

" Oh, just the letters a woman would write to a 
man she knew well. They were tremendous friends, 
he and she." 

[44] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" And she wrote a clever letter ? " 

" Clever ? It was Margaret Aubyn." 

A great silence filled the room. It seemed to Glen- 
nard that the words had burst from him as blood 
gushes from a wound. 

"Great Scott!" said Flamel sitting up. "A col- 
lection of Margaret Aubyn's letters? Did you say 
you had them ? " 

" They were left me by my friend." 

"I see. Was he well, no matter. You're to be 
congratulated, at any rate. What are you going to 
do with them ? " 

Glennard stood up with a sense of weariness in all 
his bones. "Oh, I don't know. I haven't thought 
much about it. I just happened to see that some 
fellow was writing her life " 

" Joslin ; yes. You did n't think of giving them to 
him?" 

Glennard had lounged across the room and stood 
staring up at a bronze Bacchus who drooped his gar- 
landed head above the pediment of an Italian cabi- 
net. "What ought I to do? You're just the fellow 
[45] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to advise me." He felt the blood in his cheek as he 
spoke. 

Flamel sat with meditative eye. "What do you 
want to do with them ? " he asked. 

"I want to publish them," said Glennard, swing- 
ing round with sudden energy " If I can " 

" If you can.? They 're yours, you say ? " 

"They're mine fast enough. There's no one to 
prevent I mean there are no restrictions " he was 
arrested by the sense that these accumulated proofs 
of impunity might precisely stand as the strongest 
check on his action. 

" And Mrs. Aubyn had no family, I believe ? " 

"No." 

" Then I don't see who 's to interfere," said Flamel, 
studying his cigar-tip. 

Glennard had turned his unseeing stare on an 
ecstatic Saint Catherine framed in tarnished gilding. 

" It 's just this way," he began again, with an ef- 
fort. "When letters are as personal as as these of 
my friend's. . . . Well, I don't mind telling you 
that the cash would make a heap of difference to 
[46] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

me ; such a lot that it rather obscures my judgment 
the fact is, if I could lay my hand on a few thou- 
sands now I could get into a big thing, and with- 
out appreciable risk ; and I 'd like to know whether 
you think I'd be justified under the circum- 
stances. . . ." He paused with a dry throat. It 
seemed to him at the moment that it would be im- 
possible for him ever to sink lower in his own esti- 
mation. He was in truth less ashamed of weighing 
the temptation than of submitting his scruples to a 
man like Flamel, and affecting to appeal to senti- 
ments of delicacy on the absence of which he had 
consciously reckoned. But he had reached a point 
where each word seemed to compel another, as each 
wave in a stream is forced forward by the pressure 
behind it ; and before Flamel could speak he had 
faltered out "You don't think people could say 
. . . could criticise the man. . . ." 

" But the man 's dead, is n't he ? " 

" He 's dead yes ; but can I assume the responsi- 
bility without " 

Flamel hesitated; and almost immediately Glen- 
[47] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

nard's scruples gave way to irritation. If at this hour 
Flam el were to affect an inopportune reluctance ! 

The older man's answer reassured him. "Why 
need you assume any responsibility? Your name 
won't appear, of course ; and as to your friend's, I 
don't see why his should either. He was n't a celeb- 
rity himself, I suppose ? " 

No, no." 

" Then the letters can be addressed to Mr. Blank. 
Does n't that make it all right ? " 

Glennard's hesitation revived. "For the public, 
yes. But I don't see that it alters the case for me. 
The question is, ought I to publish them at all ? " 

" Of course you ought to." Flamel spoke with in- 
vigorating emphasis. " I doubt if you 'd be justified 
in keeping them back. Anything of Margaret Au- 
byn's is more or less public property by this time. 
She 's too great for any one of us. I was only won- 
dering how you could use them to the best advan- 
tage to yourself, I mean. How many are there ? " 

"Oh, a lot; perhaps a hundred I haven't 
counted. There may be more. . . ." 
[48] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Gad ! What a haul ! When were they written ? " 

"I don't know that is they corresponded for 
years. What 's the odds ? " He moved toward his 
hat with a vague impulse of flight. 

"It all counts," said Flamel imperturbably. "A 
long correspondence one, I mean, that covers a 
great deal of time is obviously worth more than if 
the same number of letters had been written within 
a year. At any rate, you won't give them to Joslin ? 
They 'd fill a book, would n't they ? " 

" I suppose so. I don't know how much it takes to 
fill a book." 

" Not love-letters, you say ? " 

" Why ?" flashed from Glennard. 

" Oh, nothing only the big public is sentimental, 
and if they were why, you could get any money 
for Margaret Aubyn's love-letters." 

Glennard was silent. 

"Are the letters interesting in themselves? I 
mean apart from the association with her name ? " 

"I'm no judge." Glennard took up his hat and 
thrust himself into his overcoat. "I dare say I 
[49] 



TH<E TOUCHSTONE 

shaVt do anything about it. And, Flamel you 
won't mention this to any one ? " 

" Lord, no. Well, I congratulate you. You Ve got 
a big thing." Flamel was smiling at him from the 
hearth. 

Glennard, on the threshold, forced a response to 
the smile, while he questioned with loitering indif- 
ference " Financially, eh ? " 

" Rather ; I should say so." 

Glennard's hand lingered on the knob. "How 
much should you say? You know about such 
things." 

" Oh, I should have to see the letters ; but I should 
say well, if you've got enough to fill a book and 
they 're fairly readable, and the book is brought out 
at the right time say ten thousand down from the 
publisher, and possibly one or two more in royalties. 
If you got the publishers bidding against each other 
you might do even better ; but of course I 'm talking 
in the dark." 

" Of course," said Glennard, with sudden dizziness. 
His hand had slipped from the knob and he stood 
[50] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

staring down at the exotic spirals of the Persian rug 
beneath his feet. 

" I 'd have to see the letters," Flamel repeated. 

" Of course you 'd have to see them. . . ." Glen- 
nard stammered ; and, without turning, he flung over 
his shoulder an inarticulate " Good-bye. . . ." 



[51] 



V 

THE little house, as Glennard strolled up to it 
between the trees, seemed no more than a gay 
tent pitched against the sunshine. It had the crisp- 
ness of a freshly starched summer gown, and the 
geraniums on the veranda bloomed as simultaneously 
as the flowers in a bonnet. The garden was prosper- 
ing absurdly. Seed they had sown at random amid 
laughing counter-charges of incompetence had shot 
up in fragrant defiance of their blunders. He smiled 
to see the clematis unfolding its punctual wings 
about the porch. The tiny lawn was smooth as a 
shaven cheek, and a crimson rambler mounted to 
the nursery window of a baby who never cried. A 
breeze shook the awning above the tea-table, and his 
wife, as he drew near, could be seen bending above a 
kettle that was just about to boil. So vividly did the 
whole scene suggest the painted bliss of a stage set- 
ting, that it would have been hardly surprising to 
see her step forward among the flowers and trill out 
her virtuous happiness from the veranda rail. 

The stale heat of the long day in town, the dusty 
[52] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

promiscuity of the suburban train, were now but the 
requisite foil to an evening of scented breezes and 
tranquil talk. They had been married more than a 
year, and each home-coming still reflected the fresh- 
ness of their first day together. If, indeed, their hap- 
piness had a flaw, it was in resembling too closely 
the bright impermanence of their surroundings. Their 
love as yet was but the gay tent of holiday-makers. 

His wife looked up with a smile. The country life 
suited her, and her beauty had gained depth from 
a stillness in which certain faces might have grown 
opaque. 

" Are you very tired ? " she asked, pouring his tea. 

"Just enough to enjoy this." He rose from the 
chair in which he had thrown himself and bent over 
the tray for his cream. " You Ve had a visitor ? " he 
commented, noticing a half-empty cup beside her 
own. 

" Only Mr. Flamel," she said indifferently. 

"Flamel? Again?" 

She answered without show of surprise. " He left 

\ 
just now. His yacht is down at Laurel Bay and 

[53] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

he borrowed a trap of the Dreshams to drive over 
here." 

Glennard made no comment, and she went on, 
leaning her head back against the cushions of her 
bamboo seat, "He wants us to go for a sail with 
him next Sunday. 1 ' 

Glennard meditatively stirred his tea. He was try- 
ing to think of the most natural and unartificial 
thing to say, and his voice seemed to come from the 
outside, as though he were speaking behind a mario- 
nette. " Do you want to ? " 

"Just as you please," she said compliantly. No 
affectation of indifference could have been as baffling 
as her compliance. Glennard, of late, was beginning 
to feel that the surface which, a year ago, he had 
taken for a sheet of clear glass, might, after all, be a 
mirror reflecting merely his own conception of what 
lay behind it. 

" Do you like Flamel ? " he suddenly asked ; to 
which, still engaged with her tea, she returned the 
feminine answer " I thought you did." 

" I do, of course," he agreed, vexed at his own in- 
[54] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

corrigible tendency to magnify FlameFs importance 
by hovering about the topic. " A sail would be rather 
jolly; let's go." 

She made no reply and he drew forth the rolled- 
up evening papers which he had thrust into his 
pocket on leaving the train. As he smoothed them 
out his own countenance seemed to undergo the 
same process. He ran his eye down the list of stocks, 
and Flamel's importunate personality receded behind 
the rows of figures pushing forward into notice like 
so many bearers of good news. Glennard's invest- 
ments were flowering like his garden: the dryest 
shares blossomed into dividends and a golden har- 
vest awaited his sickle. 

He glanced at his wife with the tranquil air of 
a man who digests good luck as naturally as the dry 
ground absorbs a shower. "Things are looking un- 
commonly well. I believe we shall be able to go to 
town for two or three months next winter if we can 
find something cheap." 

She smiled luxuriously : it was pleasant to be able 
to say, with an air of balancing relative advantages, 
[55] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Really, on the baby's account I shall be almost 
sorry ; but if we do go, there 's Kate Erskine's house 
. . . she '11 let us have it for almost nothing. . . ." 

" Well, write her about it," he recommended, his 
eye travelling on in search of the weather report. He 
had turned to the wrong page ; and suddenly a line of 
black characters leapt out at him as from an ambush. 

"MARGARET AUBYN'S LETTERS. 

" Two volumes. Out To-day. First Edition of five thousand 
" sold out before leaving the press. Second Edition ready next 
" week. The Book of the Year. . . ." 

He looked up stupidly. His wife still sat with her 
head thrown back, her pure profile detached against 
the cushions. She was smiling a little over the pros- 
pect his last words had opened. Behind her head 
shivers of sun and shade ran across the striped awn- 
ing. A row of maples and a privet hedge hid their 
neighbor's gables, giving them undivided possession 
of their leafy half-acre; and life, a moment before, 
had been like their plot of ground, shut off, hedged 
in from importunities, impenetrably his and hers. 
Now it seemed to him that every maple-leaf, every 
[56] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

privet -bud, was a relentless human gaze, pressing 
close upon their privacy. It was as though they sat in 
a brightly lit room, uncurtained from a darkness full 
of hostile watchers. . . . His wife still smiled; and 
her unconsciousness of danger seemed in some hor- 
rible way to put her beyond the reach of rescue. . . . 
He had not known that it would be like this. 
After the first odious weeks, spent in preparing the 
letters for publication, in submitting them to Flamel, 
and in negotiating with the publishers, the transac- 
tion had dropped out of his consciousness into that 
unvisited limbo to which we relegate the deeds we 
would rather not have done but have no notion of 
undoing. From the moment he had obtained Miss 
Trends promise not to sail with her aunt he had 
tried to imagine himself irrevocably committed. 
After that, he argued, his first duty was to her 
she had become his conscience. The sum obtained 
from the publishers by FlameFs adroit manipulations, 
and opportunely transferred to Dinslow's successful 
venture, already yielded a return which, combined 
with Glennard^s professional earnings, took the edge 
[57] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

of compulsion from their way of living, making it 
appear the expression of a graceful preference for 
simplicity. It was the mitigated poverty which can 
subscribe to a review or two and have a few flowers 
on the dinner-table. And already in a small way 
Glennard was beginning to feel the magnetic quality 
of prosperity. Clients who had passed his door in the 
hungry days sought it out now that it bore the name 
of a successful man. It was understood that a small 
inheritance, cleverly invested, was the source of his 
fortune ; and there was a feeling that a man who 
could do so well for himself was likely to know how 
to turn over other people's money. 

But it was in the more intimate reward of his 
wife's happiness that Glennard tasted the full flavor 
of success. Coming out of conditions so narrow that 
those he offered her seemed spacious, she fitted into 
her new life without any of those manifest efforts at 
adjustment that are as sore to a husband's pride as 
the critical rearrangement of the bridal furniture. She 
had given him, instead, the delicate pleasure of watch- 
ing her expand like a sea-creature restored to its 
[58] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

element, stretching out the atrophied tentacles of girl- 
ish vanity and enjoyment to the rising tide of op- 
portunity. And somehow in the windowless inner 
cell of his consciousness where self-criticism cowered 
Glennard's course seemed justified by its merely 
material success. How could such a crop of inno- 
cent blessedness have sprung from tainted soil ? . . . 
Now he had the injured sense of a man entrapped 
into a disadvantageous bargain. He had not known 
it would be like this ; and a dull anger gathered ;at 
his heart. Anger against whom? Against his wife, 
for not knowing what he suffered ? Against Flamel, 
for being the unconscious instrument of his wrong- 
doing? Or against that mute memory to which his 
own act had suddenly given a voice of accusation? 
Yes, that was it; and his punishment henceforth 
would be the presence, the unescapable presence, of 
the woman he had so persistently evaded. She would 
always be there now. It was as though he had mar- 
ried her instead of the other. It was what she had 
always wanted to be with him and she had 
gained her point at last. . . . 
[59] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

He sprang up, as though in an impulse of flight. 
. . . The sudden movement lifted his wife's lids, 
and she asked, in the incurious voice of the woman 
whose life is enclosed in a magic circle of prosperity 
"Any news?"" 

" No none " he said, roused to a sense of im- 
mediate peril. The papers lay scattered at his feet 
what if she were to see them ? He stretched his arm to 
gather them up, but his next thought showed him the 
futility of such concealment. The same advertisement 
would appear every day, for weeks to come, in every 
newspaper ; how could he prevent her seeing it ? He 
could not always be hiding the papers from her. . . . 
Well, and what if she did see it? It would signify 
nothing to her; the chances were that she would 
never even read the book. ... As she ceased to be 
an element of fear in his calculations the distance 
between them seemed to lessen and he took her 
again, as it were, into the circle of his conjugal pro- 
tection. . . . Yet a moment before he had almost 
hated her ! . . . He laughed aloud at his senseless 
terrors. . . . He was off his balance, decidedly. . . . 
[60] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" What are you laughing at ? " she asked. 

He explained, elaborately, that he was laughing 
at the recollection of an old woman in the train, an 
old woman with a lot of bundles, who could n't find 
her ticket. . . . But somehow, in the telling, the 
humor of the story seemed to evaporate, and he felt 
the conventionality of her smile. He glanced at his 
watch. " Is n't it time to dress ? " 

She rose with serene reluctance. " It 's a pity to 
go in. The garden looks so lovely." 

They lingered side by side, surveying their do- 
main. There was not space in it, at this hour, for the 
shadow of the elm tree in the angle of the hedge : it 
crossed the lawn, cut the flower-border in two, and 
ran up the side of the house to the nursery window. 
She bent to flick a caterpillar from the honeysuckle ; 
then, as they turned indoors, " If we mean to go on 
the yacht next Sunday," she suggested, " ought n't 
you to let Mr. Flamel know ? " 

Glennard's exasperation deflected suddenly. "Of 
course I shall let him know. You always seem to im- 
ply that I 'm going to do something rude to Flamel." 
[61] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

The words reverberated through her silence; she 
had a way of thus leaving one space in which to 
contemplate one^s folly at arm's length. Glennard 
turned on his heel and went upstairs. As he dropped 
into a chair before his dressing-table, he said to him- 
self that in the last hour he had sounded the depths 
of his humiliation, and that the lowest dregs of it, 
the very bottom-slime, was the hateful necessity of 
having always, as long as the two men lived, to be 
civil to Barton FJamel. 



[62] 



VI 

THE week in town had been sultry, and the men, 
in the Sunday emancipation of white flannel 
and duck, filled the deck chairs of the yacht with 
their outstretched apathy, following, through a mist 
of cigarette smoke, the flitting inconsequences of the 
women. The party was a small one Flamel had few 
intimate friends but composed of more heteroge- 
neous atoms than the little pools into which society 
usually runs. The reaction from the chief episode of 
his earlier life had bred in Glennard an uneasy dis- 
taste for any kind of personal saliency. Cleverness was 
useful in business ; but in society it seemed to him as 
futile as the sham cascades formed by a stream that 
might have been used to drive a mill. He liked the 
collective point of view that goes with the civilized 
uniformity of dress clothes, and his wife's attitude 
implied the same preference; yet they found them- 
selves slipping more and more into FlamePs intimacy. 
Alexa had once or twice said that she enjoyed meet- 
ing clever people; but her enjoyment took the nega- 
tive form of a smiling receptivity; and Glennard felt 
[63] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

a growing preference for the kind of people who have 
their thinking done for them by the community. 

Still, the deck of the yacht was a pleasant refuge 
from the heat on shore, and his wife's profile, serenely 
projected against the changing blue, lay on his ret- 
ina like a cool hand on the nerves. He had never 
been more impressed by the kind of absoluteness that 
lifted her beauty above the transient effects of other 
women, making the most harmonious face seem an 
accidental collocation of features. 

The ladies who directly suggested this comparison 
were of a kind accustomed to take similar risks with 
more gratifying results. Mrs. Armiger had in fact 
long been the triumphant alternative of those who 
couldn't "see" Alexa Glennard's looks; and Mrs. 
Touchetfs claims to consideration were founded on 
that distribution of effects which is the wonder of 
those who admire a highly cultivated country. The 
third lady of the trio which Glennard's fancy had 
put to such unflattering uses was bound by circum- 
stances to support the claims of the other two. This 
was Mrs. Dresham, the wife of the editor of the 
[64] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Radiator. Mrs. Dresham was a lady who had rescued 
herself from social obscurity by assuming the role 
of her husband's exponent and interpreter; and 
DreshanVs leisure being devoted to the cultivation 
of remarkable women, his wife's attitude committed 
her to the public celebration of their remarkable- 
ness. For the conceivable tedium of this duty, Mrs. 
Dresham was repaid by the fact that there were peo- 
ple who took her for a remarkable woman ; and who 
in turn probably purchased similar distinction with 
the small change of her reflected importance. As to 
the other ladies of the party, they were simply the 
wives of some of the men the kind of women who 
expect to be talked to collectively and to have their 
questions left unanswered. 

Mrs. Armiger, the latest embodiment of DreshanVs 
instinct for the remarkable, was an innocent beauty 
who for years had distilled dulness among a set of 
people now self-condemned by their inability to ap- 
preciate her. Under Dresham's tutelage she had 
developed into a " thoughtful woman," who read his 
leaders in the Radiator and bought the works he 
[65] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

recommended. When a new book appeared, people 
wanted to know what Mrs. Armiger thought of it ; 
and a young gentleman who had made a trip in 
Touraine had recently inscribed to her the wide- 
margined result of his explorations. 

Glennard, leaning back with his head against the 
rail and a slit of fugitive blue between his half-closed 
lids, vaguely wished she would n't spoil the afternoon 
by making people talk ; though he reduced his an- 
noyance to the minimum by not listening to what 
was said, there remained a latent irritation against 
the general futility of words. 

His wife's gift of silence seemed to him the most 
vivid commentary on the clumsiness of speech as a 
means of intercourse, and his eyes had turned to her 
in renewed appreciation of this finer faculty when 
Mrs. Arranger's voice abruptly brought home to him 
the underrated potentialities of language. 

" You 've read them, of course, Mrs. Glennard ? " 
he heard her ask ; and, in reply to Alexa's vague 
interrogation "Why, the Aubyn Letters it's the 
only book people are talking of this week." 
[66] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Mrs. Dresham immediately saw her advantage. 
" You have n't read them ? How very extraordinary ! 
As Mrs. Armiger says, the book 's in the air : one 
breathes it in like the influenza." 

Glennard sat motionless, watching his wife. 

" Perhaps it has n't reached the suburbs yet," she 
said with her unruffled smile. 

" Oh, do let me come to you, then ! " Mrs. 
Touchett cried ; " anything for a change of air ! 
I'm positively sick of the book and I can't put 
it down. Can't you sail us beyond its reach, Mr. 
Flamel?" 

Flamel shook his head. "Not even with this 
breeze. Literature travels faster than steam now- 
adays. And the worst of it is that we can't any of us 
give up reading : it 's as insidious as a vice and as 
tiresome as a virtue." 

" I believe it is a vice, almost, to read such a book 
as the Letters" said Mrs. Touchett. "It's the wo- 
man's soul, absolutely torn up by the roots her 
whole self laid bare; and to a man who evidently 
did n't care ; who could n't have cared. I don't mean 
[67] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to read another line : it 's too much like listening at 
a keyhole." 

" But if she wanted it published ? " 

" Wanted it ? How do we know she did ? " 

"Why, I heard she'd left the letters to the man 
whoever he is with directions that they should 
be published after his death " 

" I don't believe it," Mrs. Touchett declared. 

" He 's dead then, is he ? " one of the men asked. 

" Why, you don't suppose if he were alive he could 
ever hold up his head again, with these letters being 
read by everybody ? " Mrs. Touchett protested. " It 
must have been horrible enough to know they 'd been 
written to him ; but to publish them ! No man could 
have done it and no woman could have told him to " 

" Oh, come, come," Dresham judicially interposed ; 
"after all, they're not love-letters." 

" No that 's the worst of it ; they 're unloved let- 
ters," Mrs. Touchett retorted. 

" Then, obviously, she need n't have written them ; 
whereas the man, poor devil, could hardly help re- 
ceiving them." 

[68] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Perhaps he counted on the public to save him 
the trouble of reading them," said young Hartly, 
who was in the cynical stage. 

Mrs. Armiger turned her reproachful loveliness to 
Dresham. "From the way you defend him I believe 
you know who he is." 

Every one looked at Dresham, and his wife smiled 
with the superior ah* of the woman who is in her 
husband's professional secrets. Dresham shrugged his 
shoulders. 

" What have I said to defend him ? " 

"You called him a poor devil you pitied him." 

" A man who could let Margaret Aubyn write to 
him in that way ? Of course I pity him." 

"Then you must know who he is," cried Mrs. 
Armiger with a triumphant air of penetration. 

Hartly and Flamel laughed and Dresham shook 
his head. " No one knows ; not even the publishers ; 
so they tell me at least." 

"So they tell you to tell us," Hartly astutely 
amended; and Mrs. Armiger added, with the ap- 
pearance of carrying the argument a point farther, 
[69] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"But even if he^s dead and she^s dead, somebody 
must have given the letters to the publishers/' 

"A little bird, probably," said Dresham, smiling 
indulgently on her deduction. 

"A little bird of prey then a vulture, I should 
say " another man interpolated. 

"Oh, I'm not with you there," said Dresham 
easily. " Those letters belonged to the public." 

" How can any letters belong to the public that 
were n't written to the public ? " Mrs. Touchett in- 
terposed. 

"Well, these were, in a sense. A personality as 
big as Margaret Aubyn's belongs to the world. Such 
a mind is part of the general fund of thought. It 's 
the penalty of greatness one becomes a monument 
historique. Posterity pays the cost of keeping one 
up, but on condition that one is always open to the 
public." 

"I don't see that that exonerates the man who 
gives up the keys of the sanctuary, as it were." 

" Who was he ? " another voice inquired. 

" Who was he ? Oh, nobody, I fancy the letter- 
[70] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

box, the slit in the wall through which the letters 
passed to posterity. . . ." 

" But she never meant them for posterity ! " 

"A woman should n't write such letters if she 
does n't mean them to be published. . . ." 

" She should n't write them to such a man ! " Mrs. 
Touchett scornfully corrected. 

"I never keep letters," said Mrs. Armiger, under 
the obvious impression that she was contributing a 
valuable point to the discussion. 

There was a general laugh, and Flamel, who had 
not spoken, said lazily, " You women are too incur- 
ably subjective. I venture to say that most men 
would see in those letters merely their immense lit- 
erary value, their significance as documents. The 
personal side does n't count where there 's so much 
else." 

"Oh, we all know you haven't any principles," 
Mrs. Armiger declared ; and Alexa Glennard, lifting 
an indolent smile, said : " I shall never [write you a 
love-letter, Mr. Flamel." 

Glennard moved away impatiently. Such talk was 
[71] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

as tedious as the buzzing of gnats. He wondered why 
his wife had wanted to drag him on such a senseless 
expedition. . . . He hated Flamel's crowd and what 
business had Flamel himself to interfere in that way, 
standing up for the publication of the letters as 
though Glennard needed his defence ? . . . 

Glennard turned his head and saw that Flamel 
had drawn a seat to Alexa's elbow and was speaking 
to her in a low tone. The other groups had scattered, 
straying in twos along the deck. It came over Glen- 
nard that he should never again be able to see 
Flamel speaking to his wife without the sense of 
sick mistrust that now loosened his joints. . . . 

Alexa, the next morning, over their early break- 
fast, surprised her husband by an unexpected re- 
quest. 

" Will you bring me those letters from town ? " 
she asked. 

" What letters ? " he said, putting down his cup. 
He felt himself as vulnerable as a man who is lunged 
at in the dark. 

[72] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Mrs. Aubyn's. The book they were all talking 
about yesterday." 

Glennard, carefully measuring his second cup of 
tea, said with deliberation, "I didn't know you 
cared about that sort of thing." 

She was, in fact, not a great reader, and a new 
book seldom reached her till it was, so to speak, on 
the home stretch ; but she replied with a gentle 
tenacity, " I think it would interest me because I 
read her life last year." 

" Her life ? Where did you get that ? " 

" Some one lent it to me when it came out Mr. 
Flamel, I think." 

His first impulse was to exclaim, " Why the devil 
do you borrow books of Flamel ? I can buy you all 
you want " but he felt himself irresistibly forced 
into an attitude of smiling compliance. "Flamel 
always has the newest books going, has n't he ? You 
must be careful, by the way, about returning what 
he lends you. He's rather crotchety about his li- 
brary." 

"Oh, I'm always very careful," she said, with a 
[73] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

touch of competence that struck him ; and she 
added, as he caught up his hat : " Don't forget the 
letters." 

Why had she asked for the book ? Was her sudden 
wish to see it the result of some hint of Flamel's ? 
The thought turned Glennard sick, but he preserved 
sufficient lucidity to tell himself, a moment later, 
that his last hope of self-control would be lost if he 
yielded to the temptation of seeing a hidden purpose 
in everything she said and did. How much Flamel 
guessed, he had no means of divining ; nor could he 
predicate, from what he knew of the man, to what 
use his inferences might be put. The very qualities 
that had made Flamel a useful adviser made him the 
most dangerous of accomplices. Glennard felt him- 
self agrope among alien forces that his own act had 
set in mbtion. . . . 

Alexa was a woman of few requirements ; but her 
wishes, even in trifles, had a definiteness that distin- 
guished them from the fluid impulses of her kind. 
He knew that, having once asked for the book, she 
would not forget it ; and he put aside, as an ineffec- 
[74] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

tual expedient, his momentary idea of applying for 
it at the circulating library and telling her that all 
the copies were out. If the book was to be bought, 
it had better be bought at once. He left his office 
earlier than usual and turned in at the first book- 
shop on his way to the train. The show-window was 
stacked with conspicuously lettered volumes. Mar- 
garet Aubyn flashed back at him in endless iteration. 
He plunged into the shop and came on a counter 
where the name repeated itself on row after row of 
bindings. It seemed to have driven the rest of litera- 
ture to the back shelves. He caught up a copy, toss- 
ing the money to an astonished clerk, who pursued 
him to the door with the unheeded offer to wrap up 
the volumes. 

In the street he was seized with a sudden appre- 
hension. What if he were to meet Flamel? The 
thought was intolerable. He called a cab and drove 
straight to the station, where, amid the palm-leaf 
fans of a perspiring crowd, he waited a long half- 
hour for his train to start. 

He had thrust a volume in either pocket, and in 
[75] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

the train he dared not draw them out ; but the de- 
tested words leaped at him from the folds of the 
evening paper. The air seemed full of Margaret 
Aubyn's name ; the motion of the train set it danc- 
ing up and down on the page of a magazine that a 
man in front of him was reading. . . . 

At the door he was told that Mrs. Glennard was 
still out, and he went upstairs to his room and 
dragged the books from his pocket. They lay on 
the table before him like live things that he feared 
to touch. ... At length he opened the first vol- 
ume. A familiar letter sprang out at him, each word 
quickened by its glaring garb of type. The little 
broken phrases fled across the page like wounded 
animals in the open. ... It was a horrible sight 
... a battue of helpless things driven savagely out 
of shelter. He had not known it would be like 
this. . . . 

He understood now that, at the moment of selling 

the letters, he had viewed the transaction solely as 

it affected himself: as an unfortunate blemish on an 

otherwise presentable record. He had scarcely con- 

[76] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

sidered the act in relation to Margaret Aubyn ; for 
death, if it hallows, also makes innocuous. Glennard^s 
God was a god of the living, of the immediate, the 
actual, the tangible; all his days he had lived in 
the presence of that god, heedless of the divinities 
who, below the surface of our deeds and passions, 
silently forge the fatal weapons of the dead. 



[77] 



VII 

A KNOCK roused him, and looking up he saw 
his wife. He met her glance in silence, and she 
faltered out, " Are you ill ? " 

The words restored his self-possession. "111? Of 
course not. They told me you were out and I came 
upstairs." 

The books lay between them on the table; he 
wondered when she would see them. She lingered 
tentatively on the threshold, with the air of leaving 
his explanation on his hands. She was not the kind 
of woman who could be counted on to fortify an ex- 
cuse by appearing to dispute it. 

" Where have you been ? " Glennard asked, moving 
forward so that he obstructed her vision of the books. 

" I walked over to the Dreshams 1 for tea." 

"I can't think what you see in those people," he 
said with a shrug; adding, uncontrollably "I sup- 
pose Flamel was there ? " 

" No ; he left on the yacht this morning." 

An answer so obstructing to the natural escape of 
his irritation left Glennard with no momentary re- 
[78] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

source but that of strolling impatiently to the win- 
dow. As her eyes followed him they lit on the books. 

" Ah, you Ve brought them ! I 'm so glad," she 
said. 

He answered over his shoulder, "For a woman 
who never reads you make the most astounding ex- 
ceptions ! " 

Her smile was an exasperating concession to the 
probability that it had been hot in town or that 
something had bothered him. 

" Do you mean it 's not nice to want to read the 
book?" she asked. "It was not nice to publish it, 
certainly ; but after all, I 'm not responsible for that, 
am I ? " She paused, and, as he made no answer, went 
on, still smiling, "I do read sometimes, you know; 
and I'm very fond of Margaret Aubyn's books. I 
was reading Pomegranate Seed when we first met. 
Don't you remember? It was then you told me all 
about her." 

Glennard had turned back into the room and 
stood staring at his wife. "All about her?" he re- 
peated, and with the words remembrance came to 
[79] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

him. He had found Miss Trent one afternoon with 
the novel in her hand, and moved by the lover's 
fatuous impulse to associate himself in some way 
with whatever fills the mind of the beloved, had 
broken through his habitual silence about the past. 
Rewarded by the consciousness of figuring impres- 
sively in Miss Trent's imagination, he had gone on 
from one anecdote to another, reviving dormant de- 
tails of his old Hillbridge life, and pasturing his 
vanity on the eagerness with which she listened to 
his reminiscences of a being already clothed in the 
impersonality of greatness. 

The incident had left no trace in his mind; but 
it sprang up now like an old enemy, the more dan- 
gerous for having been forgotten. The instinct of 
self-preservation sometimes the most perilous that 
man can exercise made him awkwardly declare : 
" Oh, I used to see her at people's houses, that was 
all;" and her silence as usual leaving room for a 
multiplication of blunders, he added, with increased 
indifference, " I simply can't see what you can find 
to interest you in such a book." 
[80] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

She seemed to consider this intently. "You've 
read it, then?" 

"I glanced at it I never read such things.*" 

" Is it true that she did n't wish the letters to be 
published?" 

Glennard felt the sudden dizziness of the moun- 
taineer on a narrow ledge, and with it the sense that 
he was lost if he looked more than a step ahead. 

" I 'm sure I don't know," he said ; then, summon- 
ing a smile, he passed his hand through her arm. " / 
did n't have tea at the Dreshams', you know ; won't 
you give me some now ? " he suggested. 

That evening Glennard, under pretext of work to 
be done, shut himself into the small study opening 
off the drawing-room. As he gathered up his papers 
he said to his wife: "You're not going to sit in- 
doors on such a night as this ? I '11 join you presently 
outside." 

But she had drawn her arm-chair to the lamp. "I 
want to look at my book," she said, taking up the 
first volume of the Letters. 

[81] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Glennard, with a shrug, withdrew into the study. 
"Pm going to shut the door; I want to be quiet," 
he explained from the threshold; and she nodded 
without lifting her eyes from the book. 

He sank into a chair, staring aimlessly at the out- 
spread papers. How was he to work, while on the 
other side of the door she sat with that volume in 
her hand ? The door did not shut her out he saw 
her distinctly, felt her close to him in a contact as 
painful as the pressure on a bruise. 

The sensation was part of the general strangeness 
that made him feel like a man waking from a long 
sleep to find himself in an unknown country among 
people of alien tongue. We live in our own souls as 
in an unmapped region, a few acres of which we 
have cleared for our habitation ; while of the nature 
of those nearest us we know but the boundaries that 
march with ours. Of the points in his wife's char- 
acter not in direct contact with his own, Glennard 
now discerned his ignorance; and the baffling sense 
of her remoteness was intensified by the discovery 
that, in one way, she was closer to him than ever 
[82] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

before. As one may live for years in happy uncon- 
sciousness of the possession of a sensitive nerve, he 
had lived beside his wife unaware that her individu- 
ality had become a part of the texture of his life, 
ineradicable as some growth on a vital organ ; and 
he now felt himself at once incapable of forecasting 
her judgment and powerless to evade its effects. 

To escape, the next morning, the confidences of 
the breakfast-table, he went to town earlier than 
usual. His wife, who read slowly, was given to talk- 
ing over what she read, and at present his first ob- 
ject in life was to postpone the inevitable discussion 
of the letters. This instinct of protection, in the af- 
ternoon, on his way up town, guided him to the club 
in search of a man who might be persuaded to come 
out to the country to dine. The only man in the 
club was Flamel. 

Glennard, as he heard himself almost involuntarily 
pressing Flamel to come and dine, felt the full irony 
of the situation. To use Flamel as a shield against his 
wife's scrutiny was only a shade less humiliating than 
to reckon on his wife as a defence against Flamel. 
[83] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

He felt a contradictory movement of annoyance at 
the latter's ready acceptance, and the two men drove 
in silence to the station. As they passed the book- 
stall in the waiting-room Flamel lingered a moment, 
and the eyes of both fell on Margaret Aubyn's name, 
conspicuously displayed above a counter stacked with 
the familiar volumes. 

" We shall be late, you know," Glennard remon- 
strated, pulling out his watch. 

" Go ahead," said Flamel imperturbably. " I want 
to get something " 

Glennard turned on his heel and walked down the 
platform. Flamel rejoined him with an innocent- 
looking magazine in his hand; but Glennard dared 
not even glance at the cover, lest it should show the 
syllables he feared. 

The train was full of people they knew, and they 
were kept apart till it dropped them at the little 
suburban station. As they strolled up the shaded 
hill, Glennard talked volubly, pointing out the 
improvements in the neighborhood, deploring the 
threatened approach of an electric railway, and 
[84] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

screening himself by a series of reflex adjustments 
from the risk of any allusion to the Letters. Flamel 
suffered his discourse with the bland inattention that 
we accord to the affairs of some one else's suburb, 
and they reached the shelter of Alexa's tea-table 
without a perceptible turn toward the dreaded 
topic. 

The dinner passed off safely. Flamel, always at his 
best in Alexa's presence, gave her the kind of atten- 
tion which is like a becoming light thrown on the 
speaker's words : his answers seemed to bring out a 
latent significance in her phrases, as the sculptor 
draws his statue from the block. Glennard, under 
his wife's composure, detected a sensibility to this 
manoeuvre, and the discovery was like the lightning- 
flash across a nocturnal landscape. Thus far these 
momentary illuminations had served only to reveal 
the strangeness of the intervening country: each 
fresh observation seemed to increase the sum-total 
of his ignorance. Her simplicity of outline was more 
puzzling than a complex surface. One may conceiv- 
ably work one's way through a labyrinth ; but Alexa's 
[85] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

candor was like a snow-covered plain, where, the road 
once lost, there are no landmarks to travel by. 

Dinner over, they returned to the veranda, where 
a moon, rising behind the old elm, was combining 
with that complaisant tree a romantic enlargement 
of their borders. Glennard had forgotten the cigars. 
He went to his study to fetch them, and in passing 
through the drawing-room he saw the second volume 
of the Letters lying open on his wife's table. He 
picked up the book and looked at the date of the 
letter she had been reading. It was one of the last 
... he knew the few lines by heart. He dropped the 
book and leaned against the wall. Why had he in- 
cluded that one among the others ? Or was it possi- 
ble that now they would all seem like that . . . ? 

Alexa's voice came suddenly out of the dusk. 
"May Touchett was right it is like listening at a 
keyhole. I wish I had n't read it ! " 

Flamel returned, in the leisurely tone of the man 
whose phrases are punctuated by a cigarette, "It 
seems so to us, perhaps; but to another generation 
the book will be a classic." 

[86] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Then it ought not to have been published till 
it had time to become a classic. It's horrible, it's 
degrading almost, to read the secrets of a woman 
one might have known."" She added, in a lower tone, 
" Stephen did know her " 

" Did he ? " came from Flamel. 

" He knew her very well, at Hillbridge, years ago. 
The book has made him feel dreadfully ... he 
would n't read it ... he did n't want me to read it. 
I did n't understand at first, but now I can see how 
horribly disloyal it must seem to him. It 's so much 
worse to surprise a friend's secrets than a stranger's." 

"Oh, Glennard's such a sensitive chap," Flamel 
said easily; and Alexa almost rebukingly rejoined, 
"If you'd known her I'm sure you'd feel as he 
does. . . ." 

Glennard stood motionless, overcome by the sin- 
gular infelicity with which he had contrived to put 
Flamel in possession of the two points most damag- 
ing to his case : the fact that he had been a friend 
of Margaret Aubyn's and that he had concealed 
from Alexa his share in the publication of the let- 
[87] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

ters. To a man of less than Flamel's astuteness it 
must now be clear to whom the letters were ad- 
dressed ; and the possibility once suggested, nothing 
could be easier than to confirm it by discreet re- 
search. An impulse of self-accusal drove Glennard to 
the window. Why not anticipate betrayal by telling 
his wife the truth in FlamePs presence ? If the man 
had a drop of decent feeling in him, such a course 
would be the surest means of securing his silence; 
and above all, it would rid Glennard of the necessity 
of defending himself against the perpetual criticism 
of his wife's belief in him. . . . 

The impulse was strong enough to carry him to 
the window ; but there a reaction of defiance set in. 
What had he done, after all, to need defence and 
explanation ? Both Dresham and Flamel had, in his 
hearing, declared the publication of the letters to be 
not only justifiable but obligatory ; and if the disin- 
terestedness of FlamePs verdict might be questioned, 
DreshanVs at least represented the impartial view of 
the man of letters. As to Alexa's words, they were 
simply the conventional utterance of the " nice " wo- 
[88] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

man on a question already decided for her by other 
"nice" women. She had said the proper thing as 
mechanically as she would have put on the appro- 
priate gown or written the correct form of dinner 
invitation. Glennard had small faith in the abstract 
judgments of the other sex : he knew that half the 
women who were horrified by the publication of 
Mrs. Aubyn's letters would have betrayed her secrets 
without a scruple. 

The sudden lowering of his emotional pitch 
brought a proportionate relief. He told himself 
that now the worst was over and things would fall 
into perspective again. His wife and Flamel had 
turned to other topics, and coming out on the 
veranda, he handed the cigars to Flamel, saying 
cheerfully and yet he could have sworn they were 
the last words he meant to utter! "Look here, 
old man, before you go down to Newport you must 
come out and spend a few days with us mustn't 
he, Alexa?" 



[89] 



VIII 

GLENN ARD, perhaps unconsciously, had counted 
on the continuance of this easier mood. He had 
always taken pride in a certain robustness of fibre 
that enabled him to harden himself against the in- 
evitable, to convert his failures into the building 
materials of success. Though it did not even now 
occur to him that what he called the inevitable had 
hitherto been the alternative he happened to prefer, 
he was yet obscurely aware that his present diffi- 
culty was one not to be conjured by any affectation 
of indifference. Some griefs build the soul a spacious 
house, but in this misery of Glennard's he could 
not stand upright. It pressed against him at every 
turn. He told himself that this was because there 
was no escape from the visible evidences of his act. 
The Letters confronted him everywhere. People who 
had never opened a book discussed them with criti- 
cal reservations ; to have read them had become a 
social obligation in circles to which literature never 
penetrates except in a personal guise. 

Glennard did himself injustice. It was from the 
[90] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

unexpected discovery of his own pettiness that he 
chiefly suffered. Our self-esteem is apt to be based 
on the hypothetical great act we have never had 
occasion to perform ; and even the most self-scruti- 
nizing modesty credits itself negatively with a high 
standard of conduct. Glennard had never thought 
himself a hero; but he had been certain that he 
was incapable of baseness. We all like our wrong- 
doings to have a becoming cut, to be made to or- 
der, as it were; and Glennard found himself sud- 
denly thrust into a garb of dishonor surely meant 
for a meaner figure. 

The immediate result of his first weeks of wretch- 
edness was the resolve to go to town for the winter. 
He knew that such a course was just beyond the 
limit of prudence ; but it was easy to allay the fears 
of Alexa, who, scrupulously vigilant in the manage- 
ment of the household, preserved the American 
wife's usual aloofness from her husband's business 
cares. Glennard felt that he could not trust himself 
to a winter's solitude with her. He had an unspeak- 
able dread of her learning the truth about the let- 
[91] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

ters, yet could not be sure of steeling himself against 
the suicidal impulse of avowal. His very soul was 
parched for sympathy; he thirsted for a voice of 
pity and comprehension. But would his wife pity? 
Would she understand? Again he found himself 
brought up abruptly against his incredible igno- 
rance of her nature. The fact that he knew well 
enough how she would behave in the ordinary emer- 
gencies of life, that he could count, in such contin- 
gencies, on the kind of high courage and directness 
he had always divined in her, made him the more 
hopeless of her entering into the tortuous psychol- 
ogy of an act that he himself could no longer ex- 
plain or understand. It would have been easier had 
she been more complex, more feminine if he could 
have counted on her imaginative sympathy or her 
moral obtuseness but he was sure of neither. He 
was sure of nothing but that, for a time, he must 
avoid her. Glennard could not rid himself of the 
delusion that by and by his action would cease to 
make its consequences felt. He would not have cared 
to own to himself that he counted on the dulling of 
[92] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

his sensibilities : he preferred to indulge the vague hy- 
pothesis that extraneous circumstances would some- 
how efface the blot upon his conscience. In his worst 
moments of self-abasement he tried to find solace in 
the thought that Flamel had sanctioned his course. 
Flamel, at the outset, must have guessed to whom 
the letters were addressed; yet neither then nor 
afterward had he hesitated to advise their publi- 
cation. This thought drew Glennard to him in fit- 
ful impulses of friendliness, from each of which 
there was a sharper reaction of distrust and aver- 
sion. When Flamel was not at the house, he missed 
the support of his tacit connivance; when he was 
there, his presence seemed the assertion of an in- 
tolerable claim. 

Early in the winter the Glennards took possession 
of the little house that was to cost them almost 
nothing. The change brought Glennard the relief 
of seeing less of his wife, and of being protected, 
in her presence, by the multiplied preoccupations 
of town life. Alexa, who could never appear hurried, 
showed the smiling abstraction of a pretty woman 
[93] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to whom the social side of married life has not lost 
its novelty. Glennard, with the recklessness of a man 
fresh from his first financial imprudence, encouraged 
her in such little extravagances as her good sense 
at first resisted. Since they had come to town, he 
argued, they might as well enjoy themselves. He 
took a sympathetic view of the necessity of new 
gowns, he gave her a set of furs at Christmas, and be- 
fore the New Year they had agreed on the necessity 
of adding a parlor-maid to their small establishment. 
Providence the very next day hastened to justify 
this measure by placing on Glennard's breakfast- 
plate an envelope bearing the name of the publishers 
to whom he had sold Mrs. Aubyn's letters. It hap- 
pened to be the only letter the early post had 
brought, and he glanced across the table at his wife, 
who had come down before him and had probably 
laid the envelope on his plate. She was not the wo- 
man to ask awkward questions, but he felt the con- 
jecture of her glance, and he was debating whether 
to affect surprise at the receipt of the letter, or to 
pass it off as a business communication that had 
[94] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

strayed to his house, when a check fell from the 
envelope. It was the royalty on the first edition of 
the letters. His first feeling was one of simple satis- 
faction. The money had come with such infernal 
opportuneness that he could not help welcoming it. 
Before long, too, there would be more ; he knew the 
book was still selling far beyond the publishers' pre- 
visions. He put the check in his pocket and left the 
room without looking at his wife. 

On the way to his office the habitual reaction set 
in. The money he had received was the first tangible 
reminder that he was living on the sale of his self- 
esteem. The thought of material benefit had been 
overshadowed by his sense of the intrinsic baseness 
of making the letters known : now he saw what an 
element of sordidness it added to the situation and 
how the fact that he needed the money, and must 
use it, pledged him more irrevocably than ever to 
the consequences of his act. It seemed to him, in 
that first hour of misery, that he had betrayed his 
friend anew. 

When, that afternoon, he reached home earlier 
[96] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

than usual, Alexa's drawing-room was full of a gay- 
ety that overflowed to the stairs. Flamel, for a won- 
der, was not there ; but Dresham and young Hartly, 
grouped about the tea-table, were receiving with 
resonant mirth a narrative delivered in the fluttered 
staccato that made Mrs. Armiger's conversation like 
the ejaculations of a startled aviary. 

She paused as Glennard entered, and he had 
time to notice that his wife, who was busied about 
the tea-tray, had not joined in the laughter of the 
men. 

" Oh, go on, go on,"" young Hartly rapturously 
groaned; and Mrs. Armiger met Glennard's inquiry 
with the deprecating cry that really she didn't see 
what there was to laugh at. " I 'm sure I feel more 
like crying. I don't know what I should have done 
if Alexa had n^t been at home to give me a cup of 
tea. My nerves are in shreds yes, another, dear, 
please " and as Glennard looked his perplexity, 
she went on, after pondering on the selection of a 
second lump of sugar, " Why, I Ve just come from 
the reading, you know the reading at the Waldorf." 
[96] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" I have n't been in town long enough to know 
anything," said Glennard, taking the cup his wife 
handed him. " Who has been reading what ? " 

"That lovely girl from the South Georgie 
Georgie What Vher-name Mrs. Dresham's prote- 
gee unless she 's yours, Mr. Dresham ! Why, the big 
ball-room was packed, and all the women were crying 
like idiots it was the most harrowing thing I ever 
heard " 

" What did you hear ? " Glennard asked ; and his 
wife interposed: "Won't you have another bit of 
cake, Julia ? Or, Stephen, ring for some hot toast, 
please." Her tone betrayed a polite weariness of the 
topic under discussion. Glennard turned to the bell, 
but Mrs. Armiger pursued him with her lovely 
amazement. 

"Why, the Aubyn Letters didn't you know 
about it? She read them so beautifully that it was 
quite horrible I should have fainted if there 'd been 
a man near enough to carry me out." 

Hardy's glee redoubled, and Dresham said jovially, 
"How like you women to raise a shriek over the book 
[97] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

and then do all you can to encourage the blatant 
publicity of the readings ! " 

Mrs. Armiger met him more than half-way on a 
torrent of self-accusal. " It was horrid ; it was dis- 
graceful. I told your wife we ought all to be ashamed 
of ourselves for going, and I think Alexa was quite 
right to refuse to take any tickets even if it was 
for a charity." 

" Oh," her hostess murmured indifferently, " with 
me charity begins at home. I can't afford emotional 
luxuries." 

"A charity? A charity?" Hartly exulted. "I 
hadn't seized the full beauty of it. Reading poor 
Margaret Aubyn's love-letters at the Waldorf before 
five hundred people for a charity ! What charity, dear 
Mrs. Armiger ? " 

"Why, the Home for Friendless Women" 

"It was well chosen," Dresham commented; and 
Hartly buried his mirth in the sofa cushions. 

When they were alone Glennard, still holding his 
untouched cup of tea, turned to his wife, who sat 

[98] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

silently behind the kettle. " Who asked you to take 
a ticket for that reading ? " 

" I don't know, really Kate Dresham, I fancy. It 
was she who got it up." 

"It's just the sort of damnable vulgarity she's 
capable of! It's loathsome it's monstrous " 

His wife, without looking up, answered gravely, 
66 1 thought so too. It was for that reason I did n't 
go. But you must remember that very few people 
feel about Mrs. Aubyn as you do " 

Glennard managed to set down his cup with a 
steady hand, but the room swung round with him 
and he dropped into the nearest chair. " As I do ? " 
he repeated. 

" I mean that very few people knew her when she 
lived in New York. To most of the women who went 
to the reading she was a mere name, too remote to 
have any personality. With me, of course, it was 
different " 

Glennard gave her a startled look. "Different? 
Why different?" 

" Since you were her friend " 
[99] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Her friend ! " He stood up. " You speak as if 
she had had only one the most famous woman of 
her day ! " He moved vaguely about the room, bend- 
ing down to look at some books on the table. "I 
hope," he added, "you didn't give that as a reason?"" 

" A reason ? " 

"For not going. A woman who gives reasons for 
getting out of social obligations is sure to make her- 
self unpopular or ridiculous." 

The words were uncalculated ; but in an instant 
he saw that they had strangely bridged the distance 
between his wife and himself. He felt her close on 
him, like a panting foe ; and her answer was a flash 
that showed the hand on the trigger. 

"I seem," she said from the threshold, "to have 
done both in giving my reason to you." 

The fact that they were dining out that evening 
made it easy for him to avoid Alexa till she came 
downstairs in her opera-cloak. Mrs. Touchett, who 
was going to the same dinner, had offered to call for 
her; and Glennard, refusing a precarious seat be- 
[100] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

tween the ladies' draperies, followed on foot. The 
evening was interminable. The reading at the Wal- 
dorf, at which all the women had been present, had 
revived the discussion of the Aubyn Letters, and 
Glennard, hearing his wife questioned as to her 
absence, felt himself miserably wishing that she had 
gone, rather than that her staying away should have 
been remarked. He was rapidly losing all sense of 
proportion where the Letters were concerned. He 
could no longer hear them mentioned without sus- 
pecting a purpose in the allusion; he even yielded 
himself for a moment to the extravagance of im- 
agining that Mrs. Dresham, whom he disliked, had 
organized the reading in the hope of making him be- 
tray himself for he was already sure that Dresham 
had divined his share in the transaction. 

The attempt to keep a smooth surface on this 
inner tumult was as endless and unavailing as efforts 
made in a nightmare. He lost all sense of what he 
was saying to his neighbors ; and once when he looked 
up his wife's glance struck him cold. 

She sat nearly opposite him, at FlameFs side, and 
[101 ] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

it appeared to Glennard that they had built about 
themselves one of those airy barriers of talk behind 
which two people can say what they please. While 
the reading was discussed they were silent. Their si- 
lence seemed to Glennard almost cynical it stripped 
the last disguise from their complicity. A throb of 
anger rose in him, but suddenly it fell, and he felt, 
with a curious sense of relief, that at bottom he no 
longer cared whether Flamel had told his wife or 
not. The assumption that Flamel knew about the 
letters had become a fact to Glennard; and it now 
seemed to him better that Alexa should know too. 

He was frightened at first by the discovery of his 
own indifference. The last barriers of his will seemed 
to be breaking down before a flood of moral lassi- 
tude. How could he continue to play his part, how 
keep his front to the enemy, with this poison of in- 
difference stealing through his veins? He tried to 
brace himself with the remembrance of his wife's 
scorn. He had not forgotten the note on which their 
conversation had closed. If he had ever wondered 
how she would receive the truth he wondered no 
[102] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

longer she would despise him. But this lent a new 
insidiousness to his temptation, since her contempt 
would be a refuge from his own. He said to himself 
that, since he no longer cared for the consequences, 
he could at least acquit himself of speaking in self- 
defence. What he wanted now was not immunity 
but castigation : his wife's indignation might still 
reconcile him to himself. Therein lay his one hope 
of regeneration ; her scorn was the moral antiseptic 
that he needed, her comprehension the one balm 
that could heal him. . . . 

When they left the dinner he was so afraid of 
speaking that he let her drive home alone, and went 
to the club with Flamel. 



[103] 



IX 

HE rose next morning with the resolve to know 
what Alexa thought of him. It was not an- 
choring in a haven but lying to in a storm he 
felt the need of a temporary lull in the turmoil of 
his sensations. 

He came home late, for they were dining alone 
and he knew that they would have the evening to- 
gether. When he followed her to the drawing-room 
after dinner he thought himself on the point of 
speaking; but as she handed him his coffee he said 
involuntarily: "I shall have to carry this off to the 
study; I Ve got a lot of work to-night." 

Alone in the study he cursed his cowardice. What 
was it that had withheld him? A certain bright 
unapproachableness seemed to keep him at arm's 
length. She was not the kind of woman whose com- 
passion could be circumvented ; there was no chance 
of slipping past the outposts he would never take 
her by surprise. Well why not face her, then? 
What he shrank from could be no worse than what 
he was enduring. He had pushed back his chair and 
[104] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

turned to go upstairs when a new expedient pre- 
sented itself. What if, instead of telling her, he were 
to let her find out for herself and watch the effect 
of the discovery before speaking? In this way he 
made over to chance the burden of the revelation. 

The idea had been suggested by the sight of the 
formula enclosing the publisher's check. He had 
deposited the money, but the notice accompanying 
it dropped from his note-case as he cleared his table 
for work. It was the formula usual in such cases, and 
revealed clearly enough that he was the recipient of 
a royalty on Margaret Aubyn's letters. It would be 
impossible for Alexa to read it without understand- 
ing at once that the letters had been written to him 
and that he had sold them. . . . 

He sat downstairs till he heard her ring for the 
parlor-maid to put out the lights ; then he went up 
to the drawing-room with a bundle of papers in his 
hand. Alexa was just rising from her seat, and the 
lamplight fell on the deep roll of hair that overhung 
her brow like the eaves of a temple. Her face had 
often the high secluded look of a shrine ; and it was 
[105] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

this touch of awe in her beauty that now made him 
feel himself on the brink of sacrilege. 

Lest the feeling should control him, he spoke at 
once. "I've brought you a piece of work a lot of 
old bills and things that I want you to sort for me. 
Some are not worth keeping but you '11 be able to 
judge of that. There may be a letter or two among 
them nothing of much account; but I don't like 
to throw away the whole lot without having them 
looked over, and I have n't time to do it myself." 

He held out the papers, and she took them with 
a smile that seemed to recognize in the service he 
asked the tacit intention of making amends for the 
incident of the previous day. 

" Are you sure I shall know which to keep ? " 

"Oh, quite sure,"" he answered easily; "and be- 
sides, none are of much importance." 

The next morning he invented an excuse for leav- 
ing the house without seeing her, and when he re- 
turned, just before dinner, he found a visitor's hat 
and stick in the hall. The visitor was Flamel, who 
was just taking leave. 

[106] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

He had risen, but Alexa remained seated; and 
their attitude gave the impression of a colloquy that 
had prolonged itself beyond the limits of speech. 
Both turned a surprised eye on Glennard, and he had 
the sense of walking into a room grown suddenly 
empty, as though their thoughts were conspirators 
dispersed by his approach. He felt the clutch of his 
old fear. What if his wife had already sorted the 
papers and had told Flamel of her discovery ? Well, 
it was no news to Flamel that Glennard was in re- 
ceipt of a royalty on the Aubyn Letters. . . 

A sudden resolve to know the worst made him lift 
his eyes to his wife as the door closed on Flamel. 
But Alexa had risen also, and bending over her 
writing-table, with her back to Glennard, was be- 
ginning to speak precipitately. 

"I'm dining out to-night you don't mind my 
deserting you ? Julia Armiger sent me word just now 
that she had an extra ticket for the last Ambrose 
concert. She told me to say how sorry she was 
that she hadn't two, but I knew you wouldn't 
be sorry!" She ended with a laugh that had the 
[107] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

effect of being a strayed echo of Mrs. Armiger's ; 
and before Glennard could speak she had added, 
with her hand on the door, "Mr. Flamel stayed so 
late that I Ve hardly time to dress. The concert be- 
gins ridiculously early, and Julia dines at half -past 
seven. 1 ' 

Glennard stood alone in the empty room that 
seemed somehow full of an ironical consciousness of 
what was happening. " She hates me,' 1 he murmured. 
" She hates me ..." 

The next day was Sunday, and Glennard pur- 
posely lingered late in his room. When he came 
downstairs his wife was already seated at the break- 
fast-table. She lifted her usual smile to his entrance 
and they took shelter in the nearest topic, like way- 
farers overtaken by a storm. While he listened to 
her account of the concert he began to think that, 
after all, she had not yet sorted the papers, and that 
her agitation of the previous day must be ascribed 
to another cause, in which perhaps he had but an 
indirect concern. He wondered it had never before 
[108] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

occurred to him that Flamel was the kind of man 
who might very well please a woman at his own ex- 
pense, without need of fortuitous assistance. If this 
possibility cleared the outlook it did not brighten it. 
Glennard merely felt himself left alone with his base- 
ness. 

Alexa left the breakfast-table before him, and 
when he went up to the drawing-room he found her 
dressed to go out. 

" Are n't you a little early for church ? " he asked. 

She replied that, on the way there, she meant to 
stop a moment at her mother's ; and while she drew 
on her gloves he fumbled among the knick-knacks on 
the mantelpiece for a match to light his cigarette. 

"Well, good-bye," she said, turning to go; and 
from the threshold she added: "By the way, I've 
sorted the papers you gave me. Those that I thought 
you would like to keep are on your study table." She 
went downstairs and he heard the door close behind 
her. 

She had sorted the papers she knew, then she 
must know and she had made no sign ! 
[109] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

Glennard, he hardly knew how, found himself once 
more in the study. On the table lay the packet he 
had given her. It was much smaller she had evi- 
dently gone over the papers with care, destroying 
the greater number. He loosened the elastic band 
and spread the remaining envelopes on his desk. The 
publishers notice was among them. 



[110] 



X 

HIS wife knew and she made no sign. Glennard 
found himself in the case of the seafarer who, 
closing his eyes at nightfall on a scene he thinks to put 
leagues behind him before day, wakes to a port-hole 
framing the same patch of shore. From the kind of ex- 
altation to which his resolve had lifted him he dropped 
to an unreasoning apathy. His impulse of confession 
had acted as a drug to self-reproach. He had tried to 
shift a portion of his burden to his wife's shoulders ; 
and now that she had tacitly refused to carry it, he 
felt the load too heavy to be taken up. 

A fortunate interval of hard work brought respite 
from this phase of sterile misery. He went West to 
argue an important case, won it, and came back to 
fresh preoccupations. His own affairs were thriving 
enough to engross him in the pauses of his profes- 
sional work, and for over two months he had little 
time to look himself in the face. Not unnaturally 
for he was as yet unskilled in the subtleties of intro- 
spection he mistook his temporary insensibility for 
a gradual revival of moral health. 

[in] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

He told himself that he was recovering his sense 
of proportion, getting to see things in their true 
light ; and if he now thought of his rash appeal to 
his wife's sympathy it was as an act of folly from 
the consequences of which he had been saved by the 
providence that watches over madmen. He had little 
leisure to observe Alexa ; but he concluded that the 
common sense momentarily denied him had coun- 
selled her silent acceptance of the inevitable. If 
such a quality was a poor substitute for the passion- 
ate justness that had once seemed to distinguish 
her, he accepted the alternative as a part of that 
general lowering of the key that seems needful to 
the maintenance of the matrimonial duet. What 
woman ever retained her abstract sense of justice 
where another woman was concerned ? Possibly the 
thought that he had profited by Mrs. Aubyn's ten- 
derness was not wholly disagreeable to his wife. 

When the pressure of work began to lessen, and 

he found himself, in the lengthening afternoons, able 

to reach home somewhat earlier, he noticed that the 

little drawing-room was always full and that he and 

[112] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

his wife seldom had an evening alone together. 
When he was tired, as often happened, she went 
out alone ; the idea of giving up an engagement to 
remain with him seemed not to occur to her. She 
had shown, as a girl, little fondness for society, nor 
had she seemed to regret it during the year they had 
spent in the country. He reflected, however, that he 
was sharing the common lot of husbands, who pro- 
verbially mistake the early ardors of housekeeping 
for a sign of settled domesticity. Alexa, at any rate, 
was refuting his theory as inconsiderately as a seed- 
ling defeats the gardener's expectations. An undefi- 
nable change had come over her. In one sense it was 
a happy one, since she had grown, if not handsomer, 
at least more vivid and expressive ; her beauty had 
become more communicable : it was as though she 
had learned the conscious exercise of intuitive attri- 
butes and now used her effects with the discrimina- 
tion of an artist skilled in values. To a dispassionate 
critic (as Glennard now rated himself) the art may 
at times have been a little too obvious. Her attempts 
at lightness lacked spontaneity, and she sometimes 
[113] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

rasped him by laughing like Julia Armiger ; but he 
had enough imagination to perceive that, in respect 
of his wife's social arts, a husband necessarily sees 
the wrong side of the tapestry. 

In this ironical estimate of their relation Glen- 
nard found himself strangely relieved of all concern 
as to his wife's feelings for Flamel. From an Olym- 
pian pinnacle of indifference he calmly surveyed their 
inoffensive antics. It was surprising how his cheap- 
ening of his wife put him at ease with himself. Far 
as he and she were from each other they yet had, in 
a sense, the tacit nearness of complicity. Yes, they 
were accomplices; he could no more be jealous of 
her than she could despise him. The jealousy that 
would once have seemed a blur on her whiteness 
now appeared like a tribute to ideals in which he 
no longer believed. 

Glennard was little given to exploring the outskirts 
of literature. He always skipped the " literary notices'" 
in the papers, and he had small leisure for the inter- 
mittent pleasures of the periodical. He had therefore 
[114 ] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

no notion of the prolonged reverberations which the 
Aubyn Letters had awakened. When the book ceased 
to be talked about he supposed it had ceased to be 
read ; and this apparent subsidence of the agitation 
about it brought the reassuring sense that he had 
exaggerated its vitality. The conviction, if it did 
not ease his conscience, at least offered him the 
relative relief of obscurity ; he felt like an offender 
taken down from the pillory and thrust into the 
soothing darkness of a cell. 

But one evening, when Alexa had left him to go 
to a dance, he chanced to turn over the magazines 
on her table, and the copy of the Horoscope to 
which he settled down with his cigar confronted 
him, on its first page, with a portrait of Margaret 
Aubyn. It was a reproduction of the photograph 
that had stood so long on his desk. The desiccating 
air of memory had turned her into the mere abstrac- 
tion of a woman, and this unexpected evocation 
seemed to bring her nearer than she had ever been 
in life. Was it because he understood her better ? 
He looked long into her eyes; little personal traits 
[115] 




THE TOUCHSTONE 

reached out to him like caresses the tired droop 
of her lids, her quick way of leaning forward as she 
spoke, the movements of her long expressive hands. 
All that was feminine in her, the quality he had 
always missed, stole toward him from her unre- 
proachful gaze ; and now that it was too late, life 
had developed in him the subtler perceptions which 
could detect it in even this poor semblance of her- 
self. For a moment he found consolation in the 
thought that, at any cost, they had thus been 
brought together; then a sense of shame rushed 
over him. Face to face with her, he felt himself laid 
bare to the inmost fold of consciousness. The shame 
was deep, but it was a renovating anguish : he was 
like a man whom intolerable pain has roused from 
the creeping lethargy of death. . . 

He rose next morning to as fresh a sense of life 
as though his hour of communion with Margaret 
Aubyn had been a more exquisite renewal of their 
earlier meetings. His waking thought was that he 
must see her again; and as consciousness affirmed 
itself he felt an intense fear of losing the sense of 
[116] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

her nearness. But she was still close to him : her 
presence remained the one reality in a world of 
shadows. All through his working hours he was re- 
living with incredible minuteness every incident of 
their obliterated past : as a man who has mastered 
the spirit of a foreign tongue turns with renewed 
wonder to the pages his youth has plodded over. 
In this lucidity of retrospection the most trivial de- 
tail had its meaning, and the joy of recovery was 
embittered to Glennard by the perception of all that 
he had missed. He had been pitiably, grotesquely 
stupid; and there was irony in the thought that, 
but for the crisis through which he was passing, he 
might have lived on in complacent ignorance of his 
loss. It was as though she had bought him with her 
blood. . . 

That evening he and Alexa dined alone. After 
dinner he followed her to the drawing-room. He no 
longer felt the need of avoiding her ; he was hardly 
conscious of her presence. After a few words they 
lapsed into silence, and he sat smoking with his eyes 
[117] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

on the fire. It was not that he was unwilling to talk 
to her ; he felt a curious desire to be as kind as possi- 
ble ; but he was always forgetting that she was there. 
Her full bright presence, through which the currents 
of life flowed so warmly, had grown as tenuous as a 
shadow, and he saw so far beyond her. 

Presently she rose and began to move about the 
room. She seemed to be looking for something, and 
he roused himself to ask what she wanted. 

" Only the last number of the Horoscope. I thought 
I'd left it on this table."" He said nothing, and she 
went on : " You have n't seen it ? " 

"No,' 1 he returned coldly. The magazine was 
locked in his desk. 

His wife had moved to the mantelpiece. She stood 
facing him, and as he looked up he met her tentative 
gaze. " I was reading an article in it a review of 
Mrs. Aubyn's Letters? she added slowly, with her 
deep deliberate blush. 

Glennard stooped to toss his cigar into the fire. 
He felt a savage wish that she would not speak the 
other woman's name ; nothing else seemed to matter. 
[118] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" You seem to do a lot of reading," he said. 

She still confronted him. " I was keeping this for 
you I thought it might interest you," she said 
with an air of gentle insistence. 

He stood up and turned away. He was sure she 
knew that he had taken the review, and he felt that 
he was beginning to hate her again. 

"I haven't time for such things," he said indif- 
ferently. As he moved to the door he heard her take 
a hurried step forward; then she paused, and sank 
without speaking into the chair from which he had 
risen. 



[119] 



XI 

ViS Glennard, in the raw February sunlight, 
JL jL mounted the road to the cemetery, he felt 
the beatitude that comes with an abrupt cessation 
of physical pain. He had reached the point where 
self-analysis ceases ; the impulse that moved him was 
purely intuitive. He did not even seek a reason for 
it, beyond the obvious one that his desire to stand 
by Margaret Aubyn's grave was prompted by no at- 
tempt at a sentimental reparation, but rather by the 
need to affirm in some way the reality of the tie be- 
tween them. 

The ironical promiscuity of death had brought 
Mrs. Aubyn back to share the hospitality of her 
husband's last lodging; but though Glennard knew 
she had been buried near New York he had never 
visited her grave. He was oppressed, as he now 
threaded the long avenues, by a chilling vision of 
her return. There was no family to follow her hearse ; 
she had died alone, as she had lived ; and the " dis- 
tinguished mourners " who had formed the escort of 
the famous writer knew nothing of the woman they 
[ 120] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

were committing to the grave. Glennard could not 
even remember at what season she had been buried ; 
but his mood indulged the fancy that it must have 
been on some such day of harsh sunlight, the incisive 
February brightness that gives perspicuity without 
warmth. The white avenues stretched before him in- 
terminably, lined with stereotyped emblems of afflic- 
tion, as though all the platitudes ever uttered had 
been turned to marble and set up over the unresist- 
ing dead. Here and there, no doubt, a frigid urn or 
an insipid angel imprisoned some fine-fibred grief, as 
the most hackneyed words may become the vehicle 
of rare meanings ; but for the most part the endless 
alignment of monuments seemed to embody those 
easy generalizations about death that do not disturb 
the repose of the living. Glennard's eye, as he fol- 
lowed the way pointed out to him, had instinctively 
sought some low mound with a quiet headstone. He 
had forgotten that the dead seldom plan their own 
houses, and with a pang he discovered the name he 
sought on the cyclopean base of a shaft rearing its 
aggressive height at the angle of two avenues. 
[121 ] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" How she would have hated it ! " he murmured. 

A bench stood near and he seated himself. The 
monument rose before him like some pretentious un- 
inhabited dwelling: he could not believe that Mar- 
garet Aubyn lay there. It was a Sunday morning, and 
black figures moved among the paths, placing flow- 
ers on the frost-bound hillocks. Glennard noticed that 
the neighboring graves had been thus newly dressed, 
and he fancied a blind stir of expectancy through 
the sod, as though the bare mounds spread a parched 
surface to that commemorative rain. He rose pres- 
ently and walked back to the entrance of the ceme- 
tery. Several greenhouses stood near the gates, and 
turning in at the first he asked for some flowers. 

"Anything in the emblematic line?" asked the 
anaemic man behind the dripping counter. 

Glennard shook his head. 

"Just cut flowers? This way then." The florist 
unlocked a glass door and led him down a moist 
green aisle. The hot air was choked with the scent 
of white azaleas, white lilies, white lilacs; all the 
flowers were white: they were like a prolongation, 
[ 128 ] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

a mystic efflorescence, of the long rows of marble 
tombstones, and their perfume seemed to cover an 
odor of decay. The rich atmosphere made Glennard 
dizzy. As he leaned in the doorway, waiting for the 
flowers, he had a penetrating sense of Margaret 
Aubyn's nearness not the imponderable presence 
of his inner vision, but a life that beat warm in his 
arms. . . 

The sharp air caught him as he stepped out into 
it again. He walked back and scattered the flowers 
over the grave. The edges of the white petals shriv- 
elled like burnt paper in the cold ; and as he watched 
them the illusion of her nearness faded, shrank back 
frozen. 



[123] 



XII 

THE motive of his visit to the cemetery re- 
mained undefined save as a final effort of 
escape from his wife's inexpressive acceptance of his 
shame. It seemed to him that as long as he could 
keep himself alive to that shame he would not 
wholly have succumbed to its consequences. His 
chief fear was that he should become the creature 
of his act. His wife's indifference degraded him : it 
seemed to put him on a level with his dishonor. 
Margaret Aubyn would have abhorred the deed in 
proportion to her pity for the man. The sense of 
her potential pity drew him back to her. The one 
woman knew but did not understand; the other, it 
sometimes seemed, understood without knowing. 

In its last disguise of retrospective remorse, his 
self-pity affected a desire for solitude and medita- 
tion. He lost himself in morbid musings, in futile 
visions of what life with Margaret Aubyn might 
have been. There were moments when,, in the strange 
dislocation of his view, the wrong he had done her 
seemed a tie between them. 

[124] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

To indulge these emotions he fell into the habit, 
on Sunday afternoons, of solitary walks prolonged 
till after dusk. The days were lengthening, there was 
a touch of spring in the air, and his wanderings now 
usually led him to the Park and its outlying regions. 

One Sunday, tired of aimless locomotion, he took 
a cab at the Park gates and let it carry him out to 
the Riverside Drive. It was a gray afternoon streaked 
with east wind. Glennard's cab advanced slowly, and 
as he leaned back, gazing with absent intentness at 
the deserted paths that wound under bare boughs 
between grass banks of premature vividness, his at- 
tention was arrested by two figures walking ahead 
of him. This couple, who had the path to them- 
selves, moved at an uneven pace, as though adapting 
their gait to a conversation marked by meditative 
intervals. Now and then they paused, and in one of 
these pauses the lady, turning toward her compan- 
ion, showed Glennard the outline of his wife's pro- 
file. The man was Flamel. 

The blood rushed to Glennard's forehead. He sat 
up with a jerk and pushed back the lid in the roof 
[125] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

of the hansom ; but when the cabman bent down he 
dropped into his seat without speaking. Then, be- 
coming conscious of the prolonged interrogation of 
the lifted lid, he called out " Turn drive back 
anywhere I 'm in a hurry " 

As the cab swung round he caught a last glimpse 
of the two figures. They had not moved ; Alexa, with 
bent head, stood listening. 

" My God, my God " he groaned. 

It was hideous it was abominable he could not 
understand it. The woman was nothing to him less 
than nothing yet the blood hummed in his ears 
and hung a cloud before him. He knew it was only 
the stirring of the primal instinct, that it had no 
more to do with his reasoning self than any reflex 
impulse of the body; but that merely lowered an- 
guish to disgust. Yes, it was disgust he felt almost 
a physical nausea. The poisonous fumes of life were 
in his lungs. He was sick, unutterably sick. . . 

He drove home and went to his room. They were 
giving a little dinner that night, and when he came 
down the guests were arriving. He looked at his 
[126] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

wife: her beauty was extraordinary, but it seemed 
to him the beauty of a smooth sea along an unlit 
coast. She frightened him. 

He sat late in his study. He heard the parlor- 
maid lock the front door; then his wife went up- 
stairs and the lights were put out. His brain was 
like some great empty hall with an echo in it : one 
thought reverberated endlessly. . . At length he 
drew his chair to the table and began to write. He 
addressed an envelope and then slowly re-read what 
he had written. 
" My dear Flamel, 

" Many apologies for not sending you sooner the 
" enclosed check^ which represents the customary per- 
" centage on the sale of the ' Letters? 

" Trusting you will excuse the oversight, 
" Yours truly 

" Stephen Glennard? 

He let himself out of the darkened house and 
dropped the letter in the post-box at the corner. 

The next afternoon he was detained late at his 
[127] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

office, and as he was preparing to leave he heard 
some one asking for him in the outer room. He 
seated himself again and Flamel was shown in. 

The two men, as Glennard pushed aside an ob- 
structive chair, had a moment to measure each 
other; then Flamel advanced, and drawing out his 
note-case, laid a slip of paper on the desk. 

" My dear fellow, what on earth does this mean ? " 

Glennard recognized his check. 

"That I was remiss, simply. It ought to have 
gone to you before." 

Flamel's tone had been that of unaffected surprise, 
but at this his accent changed and he asked quickly : 
" On what ground ? " 

Glennard had moved away from the desk and 
stood leaning against the calf-backed volumes of 
the bookcase. "On the ground that you sold Mrs. 
Aubyn's letters for me, and that I find the inter- 
mediary in such cases is entitled to a percentage on 
the sale." 

Flamel paused before answering. "You find, you 
say. It 's a recent discovery ? " 
[128] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Obviously, from my not sending the check 
sooner. You see I'm new to the business." 

" And since when have you discovered that there 
was any question of business, as far as I was con- 
cerned?" 

Glennard flushed and his voice rose slightly. " Are 
you reproaching me for not having remembered it 
sooner ? " 

Flamel, who had spoken in the rapid repressed 
tone of a man on the verge of anger, stared a mo- 
ment at this and then, in his natural voice, rejoined 
good-humoredly, " Upon my soul, I don't understand 
you ! " 

The change of key seemed to disconcert Glennard. 
" It 's simple enough," he muttered. 

" Simple enough your offering me money in re- 
turn for a friendly service ? I don't know what your 
other friends expect ! " 

" Some of my friends would n't have undertaken 
the job. Those who would have done so would prob- 
ably have expected to be paid." 

He lifted his eyes to Flamel and the two men 
[129] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

looked at each other. Flamel had turned white and 
his lips stirred, but he held his temperate note. " If 
you mean to imply that the job was not a nice one 
you lay yourself open to the retort that you pro- 
posed it. But for my part I 've never seen, I never 
shall see, any reason for not publishing the letters." 

"That's just it!" 

"What?" 

" The certainty of your not seeing was what made 
me go to you. When a man's got stolen goods to 
pawn he does n't take them to the police-station." 

"Stolen?" Flamel echoed. "The letters were 
stolen?" 

Glennard burst into a laugh. " How much longer 
do you expect me to keep up that pretence about 
the letters ? You knew well enough they were writ- 
ten to me." 

Flamel looked at him in silence. " Were they ? " 
he said at length. " I did n't know it." 

"And didn't suspect it, I suppose," Glennard 
sneered. 

The other was again silent ; then he said, " I may 
[130] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

remind you that, supposing I had felt any curiosity 
about the matter, I had no way of finding out that 
the letters were written to you. You never showed 
me the originals." 

" What does that prove ? There were fifty ways of 
finding out. It 's the kind of thing one can easily do." 

Flamel glanced at him with contempt. " Our ideas 
probably differ as to what a man can easily do. It 
would not have been easy for me." 

Glennard's anger vented itself in the words upper- 
most in his thought. " It may, then, interest you to 
hear that my wife does know about the letters has 
known for some months. . ." 

" Ah," said the other, slowly. 

Glennard saw that, in his blind clutch at a wea- 
pon, he had seized the one most apt to wound. 
Flamel's muscles were under control, but his face 
showed the undefinable change produced by the 
slow infiltration of poison. Every implication that 
the words contained had reached its mark; but 
Glennard felt that their obvious intent was lost in 
the anguish of what they suggested. He was sure 
[131] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

now that Flamel would never have betrayed him ; 
but the inference only made a wider outlet for his 
anger. He paused breathlessly for Flamel to speak. 

" If she knows, it 's not through me." It was what 
Glennard had waited for. 

" Through you, by God ? Who said it was through 
you ? Do you suppose I leave it to you, or to any- 
body else, for that matter, to keep my wife informed 
of my actions ? I did n't suppose even such egregious 
conceit as yours could delude a man to that degree ! " 
Struggling for a foothold in the landslide of his 
dignity, he added in a steadier tone, "My wife 
learned the facts from me." 

Flamel received this in silence. The other's out- 
break seemed to have restored his self-control, and 
when he spoke it was with a deliberation implying 
that his course was chosen. "In that case I under- 
stand still less " 

"Still less?" 

" The meaning of this." He pointed to the check. 
"When you began to speak I supposed you had 
meant it as a bribe ; now I can only infer it was in- 
[132] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

tended as a random insult. In either case, here 's my 
answer." 

He tore the slip of paper in two and tossed the 
fragments across the desk to Glennard. Then he 
turned and walked out of the office. 

Glennard dropped his head on his hands. If he had 
hoped to restore his self-respect by the simple expe- 
dient of assailing FlameFs, the result had not justi- 
fied his expectation. The blow he had struck had 
blunted the edge of his anger, and the unforeseen ex- 
tent of the hurt inflicted did not alter the fact that 
his weapon had broken in his hands. He now saw 
that his rage against Flamel was only the last pro- 
jection of a passionate self-disgust. This conscious- 
ness did not dull his dislike of the man ; it simply 
made reprisals ineffectual. FlamePs unwillingness to 
quarrel with him was the last stage of his abasement. 

In the light of this final humiliation his assump- 
tion of his wife's indifference struck him as hardly so 
fatuous as the sentimental resuscitation of his past. 
He had been living in a factitious world wherein 
his emotions were the sycophants of his vanity, and 
[133] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

it was with instinctive relief that he felt its ruins 
crash about his head. 

It was nearly dark when he left his office, and 
he walked slowly homeward in the complete mental 
abeyance that follows on such a crisis. He was not 
aware that he was thinking of his wife ; yet when he 
reached his own door he found that, in the involun- 
tary readjustment of his vision, she had once more 
become the central point of consciousness. 



[184J 



XIII 

IT had never before occurred to him that she might, 
after all, have missed the purport of the document 
he had put in her way. What if, in her hurried 
inspection of the papers, she had passed it over as 
related to the private business of some client ? What, 
for instance, was to prevent her concluding that 
Glennard was the counsel of the unknown person 
who had sold the Aubyn Letters? The subject was 
one not likely to fix her attention she was not a 
curious woman. 

Glennard at this point laid down his fork and 
glanced at her between the candle-shades. The alter- 
native explanation of her indifference was not slow 
in presenting itself. Her head had the same listening 
droop as when he had caught sight of her the day 
before in FlameFs company ; the attitude revived the 
vividness of his impression. It was simple enough, 
after all. She had ceased to care for him because she 
cared for some one else. 

As he followed her upstairs he felt a sudden stir- 
ring of his dormant anger. His sentiments had lost 
[135] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

their artificial complexity. He had already acquitted 
her of any connivance in his baseness, and he felt 
only that he loved her and that she had escaped 
him. This was now, strangely enough, his dominant 
thought: the sense that he and she had passed 
through the fusion of love and had emerged from 
it as incommunicably apart as though the transmu- 
tation had never taken place. Every other passion, 
he mused, left some mark upon the nature ; but love 
passed like the flight of a ship across the waters. 

She dropped into her usual seat near the lamp, 
and he leaned against the chimney, moving about 
with an inattentive hand the knick-knacks on the 
mantel. 

Suddenly he caught sight of her reflection in the 
mirror. She was looking at him. He turned and their 
eyes met. 
He moved across the room. 

" There 's something that I want to say to you," 
he began. 

She held his gaze, but her color deepened. He 
noticed again, with a jealous pang, how her beauty 
[136] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

had gained in warmth and meaning. It was as though 
a transparent cup had been filled with wine. He 
looked at her ironically. 

"IVe never prevented your seeing your friends 
here," he broke out. " Why do you meet Flamel in 
out-of-the-way places ? Nothing makes a woman so 
cheap " 

She rose abruptly and they faced each other a few 
feet apart. 

" What do you mean ? " she asked. 

66 1 saw you with him last Sunday on the River- 
side Drive," he went on, the utterance of the charge 
reviving his anger. 

"Ah," she murmured. She sank into her chair 
again and began to play with a paper-knife that lay 
on the table at her elbow. 

Her silence exasperated him. 

"Well?" he burst out. "Is that all you have to 
say?" 

66 Do you wish me to explain ? " she asked proudly. 

" Do you imply I have n't the right to ? " 

" I imply nothing. I will tell you whatever you 
[137] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

wish to know. I went for a walk with Mr. Flamel 
because he asked me to." 

" I did n't suppose you went uninvited. But there 
are certain things a sensible woman does n't do. She 
doesn't slink about in out-of-the-way streets with 
men. Why could n't you have seen him here ? " 

She hesitated. "Because he wanted to see me alone." 

"Did he indeed? And may I ask if you gratify 
all his wishes with equal alacrity ? " 

" I don't know that he has any others where I am 
concerned." She paused again and then continued, in 
a voice that somehow had an under-note of warn- 
ing, "He wished to bid me good-bye. He's going 
away." 

Glennard turned on her a startled glance. " Going 
away ? " 

" He 's going to Europe to-morrow. He goes for a 
long time. I supposed you knew." 

The last phrase revived his irritation. "You for- 
get that I depend on you for my information about 
Flamel. He 's your friend and not mine. In fact, I 've 
sometimes wondered at your going out of your way 
[138] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

to be so civil to him when you must see plainly 
enough that I don't like him." 

Her answer to this was not immediate. She seemed 
to be choosing her words with care, not so much for 
her own sake as for his, and his exasperation was in- 
creased by the suspicion that she was trying to spare 
him. 

" He was your friend before he was mine. I never 
knew him till I was married. It was you who brought 
him to the house and who seemed to wish me to like 
him." 

Glennard gave a short laugh. The defence was 
feebler than he had expected : she was certainly not 
a clever woman. 

" Your deference to my wishes is really beautiful ; 
but it 's not the first time in history that a man has 
made a mistake in introducing his friends to his 
wife. You must, at any rate, have seen since then 
that my enthusiasm had cooled ; but so, perhaps, has 
your eagerness to oblige me." 

She met this with a silence that seemed to rob the 
taunt of half its efficacy. 

[139] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Is that what you imply ? " he pressed her. 

"No," she answered with sudden directness. "I 
noticed some time ago that you seemed to dislike 
him, but since then " 

"Well since then?" 

"I've imagined that you had reasons for still 
wishing me to be civil to him, as you call it." 

"Ah," said Glennard with an effort at lightness; 
but his irony dropped, for something in her voice 
made him feel that he and she stood at last in that 
naked desert of apprehension where meaning skulks 
vainly behind speech. 

"And why did you imagine this?" The blood 
mounted to his forehead. " Because he told you that 
I was under obligations to him ? " 

She turned pale. " Under obligations ? " 

"Oh, don't let's beat about the bush. Didn't he 
tell you it was I who published Mrs. Aubyn's let- 
ters ? Answer me that." 

" No," she said ; and after a moment which seemed 
given to the weighing of alternatives, she added: 
" No one told me." 

[140] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" You did n't know, then ? " 

She seemed to speak with an effort. "Not until 
not until " 

" Till I gave you those papers to sort ? " 

Her head sank. 

" You understood then ? " 

" Yes. 1 ' 

He looked at her immovable face. " Had you sus- 
pected before ? "" was slowly wrung from him. 

" At times yes ." Her voice dropped to a 
whisper. 

" Why ? From anything that was said ?" 

There was a shade of pity in her glance. " No one 
said anything no one told me anything."" She 
looked away from him. "It was your manner " 

" My manner ? " 

" Whenever the book was mentioned. Things you 
said once or twice your irritation I can't ex- 
plain." 

Glennard, unconsciously, had moved nearer. He 
breathed like a man who has been running. " You 
knew, then, you knew " he stammered. The avowal 
[141] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

of her love for Flamel would have hurt him less, 
would have rendered her less remote. " You knew 
you knew " he repeated ; and suddenly his anguish 
gathered voice. "My God!" he cried, "you sus- 
pected it first, you say and then you knew it this 
damnable, this accursed thing ; you knew it months 
ago it's months since I put that paper in your 
way and yet youVe done nothing, you've said 
nothing, you've made no sign, you've lived along- 
side of me as if it had made no difference no differ- 
ence in either of our lives. What are you made of, I 
wonder ? Don't you see the hideous ignominy of it ? 
Don't you see how you've shared in my disgrace? 
Or have n't you any sense of shame ? " 

He preserved sufficient lucidity, as the words poured 
from him, to see how fatally they invited her deri- 
sion ; but something told him they had both passed 
beyond the phase of obvious retaliations, and that if 
any chord in her responded it would not be that of 
scorn. 

He was right. She rose slowly and moved toward 
him. 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"Haven't you had enough without that?*" she 
said in a strange voice of pity. 

He stared at her. "Enough?" 

"Of misery. . ." 

An iron band seemed loosened from his temples. 
" You saw then . . ? " he whispered. 

" Oh, God oh, God " she sobbed. She dropped 
beside him and hid her anguish against his knees. 
They clung thus in silence a long time, driven to- 
gether down the same fierce blast of shame. 

When at length she lifted her face he averted his. 
Her scorn would have hurt him less than the tears 
on his hands. 

She spoke languidly, like a child emerging from a 
passion of weeping. " It was for the money ? " 

His lips shaped an assent. 

" That was the inheritance that we married on ? " 

"Yes." 

She drew back and rose to her feet. He sat watch- 
ing her as she wandered away from him. 

" You hate me," broke from him. 

She made no answer. 

[143] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Say you hate me ! " he persisted. 

" That would have been so simple,'" she answered 
with a strange smile. She dropped into a chair near 
the writing-table and rested a bowed forehead on her 
hand. 

" Was it much ? " she began at length. 

"Much ?" he returned vaguely. 

" The money." 

" The money ? " That part of it seemed to count so 
little that for a moment he did not follow her thought. 

" It must be paid back," she insisted. " Can you 
doit?" 

" Oh, yes," he returned listlessly. " I can do it." 

" I would make any sacrifice for that ! " she urged. 

He nodded. " Of course." He sat staring at her in 
dry-eyed self-contempt. "Do you count on its mak- 
ing much difference ? " 

"Much difference?" 

" In the way I feel or you feel about me ? " 

She shook her head. 

" It 's the least part of it," he groaned. 

" It 's the only part we can repair." 
[144] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Good heavens ! If there were any reparation " 
He rose quickly and crossed the space that divided 
them. " Why did you never speak ? " 
" Have n't you answered that yourself ? " 
"Answered it?" 

" Just now when you told me you did it for me."" 
She paused a moment and then went on with a 
deepening note "I would have spoken if I could 
have helped you." 

" But you must have despised me." 
" I Ve told you that would have been simpler." 
"But how could you go on like this hating the 
money ? " 

"I knew you'd speak in time. I wanted you, 
first, to hate it as I did." 

He gazed at her with a kind of awe. "You're 
wonderful," he murmured. " But you don't yet know 
the depths I Ve reached." 

She raised an entreating hand. " I don't want to ! " 
" You 're afraid, then, that you '11 hate me ? " 
"No but that you'll hate me. Let me under- 
stand without your telling me." 
[145] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"You can't. It's too base. I thought you didn't 
care because you loved Flamel." 

She blushed deeply. " Don't don't " she warned 
him. 

" I have n't the right to, you mean ? " 

" I mean that you '11 be sorry." 

He stood imploringly before her. "I want to say 
something worse something more oil' rageous. If 
you don't understand this you'll be perfectly justp 
fied in ordering me out of the house." 

She answered him with a glance of divination. " I 
shall understand but you '11 be sorry." 

" I must take my chance of that." He moved away 
and tossed the books about the table. Then he swung 
round and faced her. "Does Flamel care for you?" 
he asked. 

Her flush deepened, but she still looked at him 
without anger. " What would be the use ? " she said 
with a note of sadness. 

" Ah, I did n't ask that? he penitently murmured. 

" Well, then " 

To this adjuration he made no response beyond 
[146] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

that of gazing at her with an eye which seemed now 
to view her as a mere factor in an immense redistri- 
bution of meanings. 

"I insulted Flamel to-day. I let him see that I 
suspected him of having told you. I hated him be- 
cause he knew about the letters." 

He caught the spreading horror of her eyes, and 
for an insta: t he had to grapple with the new temp- 
tation they lit up. Then he said with an effort 
"Don't blame him he's impeccable. He helped me 
to get them published; but I lied to him too; I 
pretended they were written to another man . . . 
a man who was dead. . ." 

She raised her arms in a gesture that seemed to 
ward off his blows. 

" You do despise me ! " he insisted. 

"Ah, that poor woman that poor woman " he 
heard her murmur. 

" I spare no one, you see ! " he triumphed over 
her. She kept her face hidden. 

" You do hate me, you do despise me ! " he 
strangely exulted. 

[147] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

" Be silent ! " she commanded him ; but he seemed 
no longer conscious of any check on his gathering 
purpose. 

"He cared for you he cared for you," he re- 
peated, "and he never told you of the letters " 

She sprang to her feet. "How can you?" she 
flamed. "How dare you? That I" 

Glennard was ashy pale. " It 's a weapon . . . like 
another. . ." 

" A scoundrel's ! " 

He smiled wretchedly. "I should have used it in 
his place." 

" Stephen ! Stephen ! " she cried, as though to 
drown the blasphemy on his lips. She swept to him 
with a rescuing gesture. "Don't say such things. I 
forbid you ! It degrades us both." 

He put her back with trembling hands. " Nothing 
that I say of myself can degrade you. We 're on dif- 
ferent levels." 

" I 'm on yours, wherever it is ! " 

He lifted his head and their gaze flowed together. 

[148] 



XIV 

THE great renewals take effect as impercepti- 
bly as the first workings of spring. Glennard, 
though he felt himself brought nearer to his wife, 
was still, as it were, hardly within speaking distance. 
He was but laboriously acquiring the rudiments of 
a new language; and he had to grope for her 
through the dense fog of his humiliation, the dis- 
torting vapor against which his personality loomed 
grotesque and mean. 

Only the fact that we are unaware how well our 
nearest know us enables us to live with them. Love 
is the most impregnable refuge of self-esteem, and 
we hate the eye that reaches to our nakedness. If 
Glennard did not hate his wife it was slowly, suffer- 
ingly, that there was born in him that profounder 
passion which made his earlier feeling seem a mere 
commotion of the blood. He was like a child coming 
back to the sense of an enveloping presence: her 
nearness was a breast on which he leaned. 

They did not, at first, talk much together, and 
each beat a devious track about the outskirts of the 
[149] 




THE TOUCHSTONE 

subject that lay between them like a haunted wood. 
But every word, every action, seemed to glance at 
it, to draw toward it, as though a fount of healing 
sprang in its poisoned shade. If only they might cut 
a way through the thicket to that restoring spring ! 
Glennard, watching his wife with the intentness 
of a wanderer to whom no natural sign is negligeable, 
saw that she had taken temporary refuge in the pur- 
pose of renouncing the money. If both, theoretically, 
owned the inefficacy of such amends, the woman's 
instinctive subjectiveness made her find relief in this 
crude form of penance. Glennard saw that she meant 
to live as frugally as possible till what she deemed 
their debt was discharged ; and he prayed she might 
not discover how far-reaching, in its merely material 
sense, was the obligation she thus hoped to acquit. 
Her mind was fixed on the sum originally paid for 
the letters, and this he knew he could lay aside in 
a year or two. He was touched, meanwhile, by the 
spirit that made her discard the petty luxuries which 
she regarded as the sign of their bondage. Their 
shared renunciations drew her nearer to him, helped, 
[150J 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

in their evidence of her helplessness, to restore the 
full protecting stature of his love. And still they did 
not speak. 

It was several weeks later that, one afternoon by 
the drawing-room fire, she handed him a letter that 
she had been reading when he entered. 

" I Ve heard from Mr. Flamel," she said. 

It was as though a latent presence had become 
visible to both. Glennard took the letter mechanically. 

" It's from Smyrna, 1 ' she said. "Won't you read it ?" 

He handed it back. " You can tell me about it his 
hand's so illegible." He wandered to the other end 
of the room and then turned and stood before her. 
" I Ve been thinking of writing to Flamel," he said. 

She looked up. 

"There's one point," he continued slowly, "that 
I ought to clear up. I told him you 'd known about 
the letters all along ; for a long time, at least ; and I 
saw how it hurt him. It was just what I meant to 
do, of course ; but I can't leave him to that false 
impression ; I must write him." 
[151] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

She received this without outward movement, but 
he saw that the depths were stirred. At length she 
returned in a hesitating tone, " Why do you call it 
a false impression ? I did know." 

" Yes, but I implied you did n't care." 

"Ah!" 

He still stood looking down on her. "Don't you 
want me to set that right ? " he pursued. 

She lifted her head and fixed him bravely. "It 
is n't necessary," she said. 

Glennard flushed with the shock of the retort; 
then, with a gesture of comprehension, "No," he 
said, " with you it could n't be ; but I might still set 
myself right." 

She looked at him gently. "Don't I," she mur- 
mured, " do that ?" 

" In being yourself merely ? Alas, the rehabilita- 
tion's too complete ! You make me seem to myself 
even what I'm not; what I can never be. I can't, 
at times, defend myself from the delusion ; but I can 
at least enlighten others." 

The flood was loosened, and kneeling by her he 
[152] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

caught her hands. "Don't you see that it's become 
an obsession with me? That if I could strip myself 
down to the last lie only there 'd always be another 
one left under it ! and do penance naked in the 
market-place, I should at least have the relief of 
easing one anguish by another? Don't you see that 
the worst of my torture is the impossibility of such 
amends ? " 

Her hands lay in his without returning pressure. 
" Ah, poor woman, poor woman," he heard her sigh. 

" Don't pity her, pity me ! What have I done to 
her or to you, after all ? You 're both inaccessible ! 
It was myself I sold." 

He took an abrupt turn away from her; then 
halted before her again. "How much longer," he 
burst out, " do you suppose you can stand it ? 
You 've been magnificent, you 've been inspired, but 
what 's the use ? You can't wipe out the ignominy of 
it. It 's miserable for you and it does Tier no good ! " 

She lifted a vivid face. "That's the thought I 
can't bear ! " she cried. 

"What thought?" 

[153] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

"That it does her no good all you're feeling, 
all you're suffering. Can it be that it makes no dif- 
ference ? " 

He avoided her challenging glance. " What 's done 
is done," he muttered. 

"Is it ever, quite, I wonder?" she mused. He 
made no answer and they lapsed into one of the 
pauses that are a subterranean channel of communi- 
cation. 

It was she who, after a while, began to speak, with 
a new suffusing diffidence that made him turn a 
roused eye on her. 

" Don't they say," she asked, feeling her way as in 
a kind of tender apprehensiveness, "that the early 
Christians, instead of pulling down the heathen tem- 
ples the temples of the unclean gods purified 
them by turning them to their own uses ? I Ve al- 
ways thought one might do that with one's actions 
the actions one loathes but can't undo. One can 
make, I mean, a wrong the door to other wrongs or 
an impassable wall against them. . ." Her voice 
wavered on the word. "We can't always tear down 
[154] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

the temples we 've built to the unclean gods, but we 
can put good spirits in the house of evil the spirits 
of mercy and shame and understanding, that might 
never have come to us if we hadn't been in such 
great need. . ." 

She moved over to him and laid a hand on his. 
His head was bent and he did not change his atti- 
tude. She sat down beside him without speaking; 
but their silences now were fertile as rain-clouds 
they quickened the seeds of understanding. 

At length he looked up. " I don't know," he said, 
" what spirits have come to live in the house of evil 
that I built but you're there and that's enough. 
It 's strange," he went on after another pause, " she 
wished the best for me so often, and now, at last, 
it's through her that it's come to me. But for her 
I shouldn't have known you it's through her that 
I've found you. Sometimes do you know? that 
makes it hardest makes me most intolerable to 
myself. Can't you see that it's the worst thing I've 
got to face ? I sometimes think I could have borne 
it better if you had n't understood ! I took every- 
[155] 



THE TOUCHSTONE 

thing from her everything even to the poor 
shelter of loyalty she'd trusted in the only thing 
I could have left her! I took everything from 
her, I deceived her, I despoiled her, I destroyed 
her and she 's given me you in return ! " 

His wife's cry caught him up. " It is n't that she 's 
given me to you it is that she 's given you to your- 
self." She leaned to him as though swept forward on 
a wave of pity. " Don't you see," she went on, as his 
eyes hung on her, "that that's the gift you can't 
escape from, the debt you're pledged to acquit? 
Don't you see that you've never before been what 
she thought you, and that now, so wonderfully, she 's 
made you into the man she loved ? That V worth suf- 
fering for, worth dying for, to a woman that's the 
gift she would have wished to give ! " 

"Ah," he cried, "but woe to him by whom it 
cometh. What did I ever give her?" 

"The happiness of giving," she said. 

THE END 



BY EDITH WHARTON 
THE GREATER INCLINATION 

12mo $1.50 

CONTENTS 

The Muses Tragedy A Journey 

The Pelican Souls Belated 

A Coward The Twilight of the God 

A Cup of Cold Water The Portrait 

OPINIONS OF THE PRESS 

IT 

Eight pieces of delicate texture and artistic conception. Every 
one of them has the external shape and coloring of the world in 
which we mingle day by day, and every one of them is at heart 
a poignant spiritual tragedy. This may sound like extravagant 
praise, but no conventional commendation would be adequate 
for such a book. Between these stories and those of the ordi- 
nary entertaining sort there is a great gulf fixed. The Dial. 

IT 

Marked by great technical skill, by keen humor, and by a style 
which is individual and striking. There is a quality of distinction 
about her work not merely of style but of character. The New 
York Sun. 

IT 

This book of short stories comes out of America, and it is good. 
It is very good. Mrs. Wharton is one of the few to grasp that ob- 
vious but much neglected fact that the first business of a writer 
is to be able to write. "The Greater Inclination " is distinguished 
and delightful. The Academy. 

IT 

If we were to single out one book from those that have been 
published this season as exhibiting in the highest degree that 



rare creative power called literary genius, we should name "The 
Greater Inclination," by Mrs. Edith Wharton. The Bookman. 

f 

Her style is as finished as a cameo, and there is nowhere an 
indication of haste or crudity or the least inattention to detail. 
Only a woman to the manner born in society, a woman, too, 
whose literary favorites or her literary masters may have been 
Thackeray or James, since she partakes of the spirit of the one, 
and has followed the exquisite workmanship of the other, could 
have written "The Pelican" or "Souls Belated." Literature. 

IT 

Mrs. Wharton has not only observed people carefully, but has 
really perceived the subtle significance of their ordinary as- 
pects, so that her figures are not only individuals but types. 
This sympathetic and suggestive portrayal and the generally 
optimistic and moral tone make "The Greater Inclination" a 
book of really great value. Boston Transcript. 

IT 

Mrs. Wharton shows us so much delicacy of touch, so much 
clarity and neatness of style, and at times so much profundity 
of comprehension as to make her volume quite unique among 
the books that have been sent to us this year. . . . We could 
go on quoting indefinitely, so full is Mrs. Wharton's book of 
thoughts that are startlingly original in substance and given 
with a most vivid sense of form ; but we prefer to commend the 
volume most unreservedly to every reader, since nothing that 
we have seen this year in fiction-writing has seemed to us so 
memorable, both in its choice of subjects, its mastery of style, 
and its piquant art that makes one think and wonder. N. Y. 
Commercial Advertiser. 

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, PUBLISHERS 
153-157 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 



D. B. Updike 

The Merrymount Press 

Boston 



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Wharton, Edith Newbold (Jones) 
The touchstone 



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